I’ve always loved seeing creative group photos, be they from weddings, school events or Christmas get-togethers. They sometimes make creative use of props or costumes, sometimes incorporate odd poses…Just something to make the pictures stand out from the rest.
This isn’t anything new, though. I have some vintage photos in my collection which feature two couples posing in various silly ways for the camera. I need to scan these pictures and post them in a separate blog entry. Right now, though, I want to bring your attention to some amazing group shots from the turn of the last century and the early 1900’s. They’re photos taken of soldiers at various military posts, hundreds of soldiers per shot making up “living” objects. You might say each soldier serves as a pixel in the grand design.
I’m posting some small thumbnails in this entry, but I encourage you to go to The Hammer Gallery’s People Pictures online gallery to view larger thumbnails all on one page, each opening to a high-resolution image you can view in great detail. These shots are amazing!
Anyone who’s done group portraits knows how difficult it can be to get everyone situated and in sync. We photographers can take dozens of shots and end up with one keeper. Thank God for Photoshop and other image editors! So, imagine what patience it took to create these massive tableaus. You know it had to be very hot, standing crowded together in wool uniforms. I wish there were movies available to show the behind-the-scenes work that took place before the shutter was depressed and history was made.
And film was expensive back then, plus developing the pictures took time. There was no way to preview images in a handy LCD and see if everyone had his eyes open or if Charlie in the dark uniform was accidentally standing in the middle of the white-uniform section. Precise detail had to be noted ahead of time, for there were no second chances, not with groups this large!
I wonder if the majority of the people in these pictures ever got to see the finished photographs. Did each serviceman receive a copy? I’ve seen one of the prints firsthand, the Human Liberty Bell. It was an old photo, probably original to its 1918 vintage, framed in a well-worn dark wooden frame. I’ll do more reading on this subject and in the future will provide more detail about who received copies and where else the images were used.
Again, to see many more of these amazing group photos, in higher resolution, go to
The Hammer Gallery’s People Pictures Online Gallery.
For more information about these pictures and the process the photographers went through to capture them, see the following links:
- Dead Troop Salute, from Cabinet Magazine
- George Glazer Gallery archived page containing information about the photographers
- U.S. Human Shield print at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Actually, I’m learning so much from each new link I read, I think I need to revise this entry at some point. In the meantime, if you Google Arthur Mole and John Thomas, you will find a lot of information. It’s fascinating reading for anyone interested in the military, photography or art.