Mole & Thomas' "Living Photography"

In early 20th century, a photographer named Arthur Mole and his assistant John Thomas were commissioned by the US Military to capture group portraits of patriotic symbols to boost the country's morale.

Mole would label them 'living photographs'.

The symbols were part of the military exercise, mostly taking a week or more of preparation to form the image. The image would be traced with wire onto a glass plate which is mounted on to the camera. Mole would oversee them all to make an accurate silhouette. The servicemen would then fill in the design. The images boast Mole's perfected anamorphic perspective; for example, the Statue of Liberty symbol required 18,000 men.

Louis Kaplan, a writer, however, sees this way as a symbol of how we turn the army men (all who march to war with death in expectation) into symbols and images, like when an individual army man dies at battle. He returns not as a dead man, but an emblem. He said:

"From the photographer’s perspective, the emblems are brought to life by means of the living soldiers who embody them. But one can also look at these images from the opposite perspective: we deaden the human beings into form and formation by making them into emblems. The emblem only comes into focus when the living element drops out of the group portrait in these spectacular optical illusions. This total subjection of the individual to the symbolic order also exposes the fascistic tendency inherent in such images. Mole’s “living photographs” thinly disguise the forces of death that in fact adhere to all community."

Images are from the Library of Congress under the public domain.

2017-09-11 #culture #arthur-mole #john-thomas #vintage-photography

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