Back in the 1990s I picked up this photo at a library book sale. A few years earlier I'd read an article about Arthur S. Mole and John D. Thomas, photographers, in Smithsonian magazine. They visited U.S. army camps and posts, and navy and marine bases, posed the men and nurses by the thousands, and took iconic photos. But this particular photo was not in the article. I wondered where it was taken. The burgeoning Internet was no help at that point.
It wasn't until 2005, when I thought to search the Internet again, that I found an image of this photo. It was taken, probably in October, 1918, at Camp Travis, which was adjacent to Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas. I've enjoyed having it. But now, in my effort to downsize my possessions, I've listed it on eBay here .
For a long time, Mole's and Thomas' work was forgotten. Then it was rediscovered.
How did they do it? Very carefully. They must have used graph paper. Eventually, the outline was drawn on a large photo plate.
They arrived at the military post and spent days laying out tape on the parade field.
A very high scaffolding was erected (or perhaps they were atop a building and scaffolding).
The troops were marched out and placed in position. It must have taken hours to get it right. Megaphones were used. Many more bodies were placed farther back than up front. I believe that I read 18,000 were used for this Statue of Liberty photo, but that 16,000 of them composed the torch element. Perspective, perspective.
Perhaps my photo was one of the last taken. As the war drew to a close, the deadly Spanish influenza pandemic broke out overseas and then on American military posts and bases, before it reached out into the civilian sectors. When World War II came along, it was a very different war. There was no leisure time to arrange a large body of men and nurses for a patriotic photo before shipping them off overseas.