Arthur Mole

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"Living Emblem of the United States Marines". Mole & Thomas, 1919

Arthur Samuel Mole (January 7, 1889 in Lexden, Essex, England – 14 August 1983 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, US) was a British-born, naturalized American commercial photographer. He became famous for a series of "living photographs" made during World War I, in which tens of thousands of soldiers, reservists and other members of the military were arranged to form massive compositions. Although if viewed from the ground or from directly above, these masses of men would appear meaningless, when seen from the top of an 80-foot viewing tower, they clearly appeared to be various patriotic shapes (anamorphosis). The key was to photograph the people from the one place where the lines of perspective would resolve themselves into intelligible images. His partner in this endeavor was John D. Thomas.[1]

Living photographs[edit]

Mole immigrated to the United States with his family in 1903, when he was 14 years old. He worked as a commercial photographer in Zion, Illinois, north of Chicago. During World War I, he traveled to various Army, Marine and Navy camps to execute his massive compositions. He is considered a pioneer in the field of performed group photography.[1] Executing photographs using such large numbers, and relying on lines of perspective stretching out more than a hundred meters, required a week of preparation and then hours to actually position the formations. Mole would stand on his viewing tower and shout into a megaphone or use a long pole with a white flag to arrange the tens of thousands of soldiers into position.[2]

Ten images are most famous from this period. They include images of Woodrow Wilson, the Liberty Bell, Statue of Liberty, the American Eagle as well as emblems of the YMCA and the Allied flags. The Human U.S. Shield required the placement of 30,000 people; The Liberty Bell 25,000.[3]

Mole's work is featured in the collections of the Chicago Historical Society, Metropolitan Museum of Art,[4] San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Library of Congress. The photographs were again presented to the public in the July 2007 issue of Martha Stewart Living. Eight of the images are displayed in a feature article.

Modern examples[edit]

His technique lives on in a contemporary military public relations context.

Other sources[edit]

  • Jensen, Oliver. America's Yesterdays—Images of Our Lost Past Discovered in the Photographic Archives of The Library of Congress. New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc., 1978, pp. 248–49.
  • "Arthur S. Mole." The Heartland Project: Illusions of Eden. (18 March 2003).
  • Collins, Dan. "Anamorphosis and the Eccentric Observer (Parts 1 and 2)." Leonardo Vol. 25, No. 1 and 2, 1992. Arizona State University. (18 March 2003). Full text


  1. ^ a b Flag Formation
  2. ^ "Art of Living Photographs". Archived from the original on 2014-01-02. Retrieved 2014-01-01.
  3. ^ "Patriotic Bird's-eye Military Group Photographs". // Archived from the original on 2014-01-02. Retrieved 2013-07-23.
  4. ^

External links[edit]