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Politics & Government

Remembering the famous "living photograph" taken at Camp Custer

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Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987
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Imagine choreographing thousands of people into formations to look like famous things like the Liberty Bell, or the Statue of Liberty.

Sound like a stunt? Maybe a little nutty?

Well, that's exactly what Arthur S. Mole and John D. Thomas did in the early 20th century.

Their project photographed in Michigan at Camp Custer near Battle Creek was their most ambitious. Mole and Thomas arranged 30,000 military troops into the U.S. Shield.

Intended to rally public morale during World War One, these pictures had a big impact on the American political landscape.

Louis Kaplan, a Professor of History and Theory of Photography and New Media at the University of Toronto, describes how Arthur S. Mole and John D. Thomas were the first to use propaganda in the form of mass photography.

Doing extra service that served to rally the country, troops would sometimes have to stand for many hours to get angling and perspective just right.

Kaplan describes Mole climbing atop an 80-foot tower. He used a microphone, body language, and a long pole with a white flag attached at the end to conduct and align the troops into formation.

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