Humans As Photographs

Several  years ago we visited the Music Museum http://www.musichouse.org/ just outside Traverse City. This museum has a fantastic display of mechanical musical instruments, but I’m not going to talk about them today. While the music was toe-tapping and made me smile, something even more interesting caught my eye.

On our way into the guided tour area of the museum we passed a couple of mosaic-like pictures hanging on the wall. One was a picture of President Woodrow Wilson, the other a shield composed of stars and stripes. The guide directed our attention to them, pointing out that each picture was composed of hundreds of soldiers standing on marks to form the shapes.

humans as picture1        humans as picture2

I stepped close to the glass and peered at the photos. Sure enough, I could see the heads of the people. The guide pointed out hole in a line and another spot where a man leaned against his comrade, ready to faint away. The soldiers had to stand out in the hot sun for hours while the photographers lined everyone up just so to take an aerial photo. Sometimes a fellow or two didn’t make it to the end shot. The guide also pointed out another man who didn’t quite match the line he stood in, offering the suggestion that he was pulled in at the last minute to plug a hole caused by the collapse of someone else.

The photos were done by commercial photographer Arthur S. Mole http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Mole and his partner John D. Thomas. Mole and Thomas went around the country to military camps creating people pictures. http://www.metmuseum.org/collections/search-the-collections/190017332 The largest “living photograph” was an American shield taken in 1918 at Camp Custer, Michigan.  To form the shield 30,000 military personnel stood on ground markers that stretched out a quarter of a mile from the 70 to 80 foot tall tower where the camera was perched.

The photos fascinated me. Hundreds of people crammed together creating a picture that could only be viewed aerially. Although each individual was interesting in his or her own way—possessing unique personalities, different jobs, and distinct lives—an aerial picture of one single person wasn’t very exciting—just a dot on the beige background. But when all the men and women stood together, just so—in their proper spots, they created something unique and out of the ordinary.

So it is with words. A single word can be interesting—at least they are to me. As a teen I read the dictionary like others would read a novel. As an adult I’ve had a multitude of discussions with my husband about word definitions, discussions that always end in one, or both of us, thumbing through the dictionary to see who is right. But a single word is just … a single word. As interesting as any word might be, string several together and something even more attention-grabbing is created—a means of communication. Put pages upon pages of sentences together and you create a book—a fantastic vehicle that transports readers to other places, other times, and provides mental photos to review whenever they choose to do so.

I’ve never seen photographs like the ones I’ve posted here from the Music Museum, but I don’t think I’ll be forgetting them any time soon. Like a good book, that won’t fade from my memory, these photos are impressed on my mind.

Have you ever seen photos like these?

Catherine CastleCatherine Castle is an award-winning author. Her book The Nun and the Narc has won the 2014 Beverly Hills Book Award, the 2014 Rone Award and finaled in the 2014 EPIC Contest.

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6 Responses to Humans As Photographs

  1. Interesting historical info, plus nice tie in to words and writing.
    Tema Merback
    Writing as Belle Ami
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    Coming 2016 – One More Time is Not Enough (The Only One) #3
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  2. FB’d, Tweeted, commented!

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