Notice anything unusual about the Marine Corps emblem above? If you look closely, you can see that it is made up of men wearing dark or light clothes and arranged in a pattern. This photo, by photographer Arthur Mole and his partner John Thomas, is part of a series referred to as “living photographs” because all the images were made by organizing soldiers and sailors into various patriotic shapes. The shapes were composed of between 9,000 and 30,000 enlisted men stretched over an area up to a quarter of a mile long.
Planning out the details of the patterns was difficult and could take a week to figure out. It was challenging because the shots would be taken from an 80-foot tower at an angle, rather than from directly above, so Mole and Thomas had to figure out the correct perspective. This meant fewer men were needed at the bottom, while many more were needed toward the top. For example, in the Statue of Liberty image above, only 2,000 men were needed for the head and body, while the flame of the torch, which was farther away, needed 12,000 men. And despite the ground being outlined in white tape, it still would take hours to arrange everyone on the day of the photo.
Some of the most famous shapes created by Mole and Thomas during and after World War I include the Liberty Bell, the American eagle, a stars and stripes shield, the emblem of the United States Marines, the Statue of Liberty, and President Woodrow Wilson. After World War I ended, in the 1920s, demand for these patriotic military images fell, so Mole and Thomas moved on to other projects, and Mole went back to his previous photography business.