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Visual Onomatopoeia

Author(s): Steven C. Dubin


Source: Symbolic Interaction, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Fall 1990), pp. 185-216
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction
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VISUAL ONOMATOPOEIA
Steven C. Dubin*
State University

o f New York- Purchase

Social solidarity and group identity are not givens; at particular times they must be intentionally
cultivated and concretely enacted. What I have termed visual onomatopoeia assembles large
numbers of individuals into group insignias, emblems, or other significant symbols. The subsequent artistic or photographic record of such displays is tangible evidence of a groups existence
-who comprises it and how it sees itself. It thereby operates as both act and artifact. Like its
verbal counterpart, visual onomatopoeia communicates through a close equivalence between a
subject and its representation. It frames experience in a distinctive manner by objectifying the
group, which ordinarily is only vaguely conceptualized. Living photographs of religious and
patriotic subjects (e.g., 18,000 men configured as the Statue of Liberty) were executed by the team
of Mole and Thomas and E.O. Goldbeck between 1913 and 1971. From a Durkheimian perspective,
such images could be an important device for mobilizing allegiance. But by adopting a Goffmanian
perspective, we additionally learn that there is affective deviance from affirmative social rituals:
participants were not as fully engaged as their organizers might have desired. Additional examples from the mass media (e.g., advertising. news reports) demonstrate the metaphoric use of this
device and attest to the subtle pervasiveness of this way of representing social life.

INTRODUCTION
Is society real, or is it a trompe loeil image? We feel we experience its effects, but can
we actually envision and describe it? Many would argue in the negative: this is a reified
concept which transforms a process of dynamic negotiation into something static. But
some groups find that existential questions are frequent and vexing and therefore relentlessly
search for external validation of who they are and what they stand for. Just as is the case
with particular individuals, communal identity and purpose cannot always be taken for
granted. In addition, there are certain moments in any groups history when its members
are more likely to raise such concerns. Crises and transitional periods can dredge up issues
that would otherwise remain submerged. Symbolic creations may fill emotional and
cognitive voids at such junctures, providing the reassurance and direction necessary for
continued individual participation and group survival.
*Direct all correspondence to: Steven C. Dubin, Social Science Division, State University of New York,
Purchase. NY 10577
~~

~~

Symbolic Interaction, Volume 13, Number 2, pages 185-216.


Copyright 0 1990 by JAI Press, Inc.
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved.
ISSN: 0195-6086.

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The strong desire to picture society as an actual entity is one way that an abstract
concept is given material form. This is evidenced by totemic representations, the biological and anthropomorphic metaphors proposed by political and social philosophers (society
as organism or body politic), or the commonplace geometric notions of societies as
pyramids of stratified layers or ladders of mobility. Ln all these instances society is seen
much like an everyday object,2 and its palpability can generate either veneration or
opposition.
This use of metaphor should not be surprising. It is a vital part of many aspects of our
lives, for example, in the enactment of rituals. Babcock (1978) vividly demonstrates the
centrality of not only metaphor in social life, but also the importance of irony, paradox
and inversion in how we express ourselves and what matters most to us. Others virtually
equate metaphor with ritual and culture: Ritual is a form by which culture presents itself
to itself (Myerhoff 1984, p. 155). Ritual therefore condenses important concerns, frequently through metaphoric means. But ritual magnifies issues as well, and since it often
responds to contradictions which cannot be managed within the routines of daily life it
commonly displays a contradictory nature itself.

VISUAL ONOMATOPOEIA
The rendition of structurally important social arrangements and ultimate beliefs which
ceremony fleetingly provides the senses, still photography can further condense . . .
Goffman 1979, p. 10.

This research concerns what I have termed visual onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeia typically refers to the written or oral realm, where words imitate natural sounds. Examples
would be tinkle or buzz. But this notion can be extended to a similar device found
in the symbolic realm-in advertisements, illustrations, and photographs-where people
mimetically represent group values when they are assembled into monumental images.
From one point of view visual onomatopoeia exhibits a remarkable degree of equivalence between signifier and signified, materializing core values, lineage, group purpose or
social identity into easily grasped facsimiles. Rendered in a seemingly unambiguous
manner, this phenomenon is Homology 101. Such a stance would find support from
Durkheim (1965 [1915]), and from Peirce (1960) as an example of an iconic, motivated
sign. But from another vantage point we can appreciate that multiple meanings might be
extracted from such images and the exercises which they record. This more subjectivistic
view would square with Goffman (1961a, 1961b, 1963, 1967) in a sociological sense, and
with Saussures notion of the unmotivated, arbitrary sign in the linguistic sense (1959
[ 19151).
The generally accepted readings of the aforementioned theorists cast them into opposition with one another, but neither stance is adequate in itself. By examining the eccentricities of social interaction-visual onomatopoeia, for example-we are able to explore the
links between these respective points of view and develop a more comprehensive appreciation of social life.
First, consider the following drawing in an advertisement for a utility company (see
Figure 1). Here an ersatz emblem is presented as if it were formed by its employees. The

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Visual Onomatopoeia

Giving the Telephone Life


Wherever your thought goes
your voice may go. You can
talk across the continent as if
face to face. Your telephone
is the latch to open for you any
door in the land.
There is the web of wires.
The many switchboards. The
maze of apparatus. The millions of telephones. All are
parts of a country-wide mechanism for far-speaking. The
equipment has cost over 2 billion dollars, but more than
equipment is needed.

There must be the guardians


of the wires to keep them vital
with speech-carrying electrical
currents. There must be those
who watch the myriads of tiny
switchboard lights and answer
your commands. There must
be technicians of every sort to
construct, repair and operate.
A quarter of a million men
and women are united to give
nation-wide telephone service.
With their brains and hands
they make the Bell System
live.

BELL SYSTEM
AMERICAN TELEPHONE
A N D TELEGRAPHCOMPANY
AND ASSOCIATED

COMPANIES

One Policy, One System, Uniucrtel Seruice, mul all directed toward Batter Seruice

FIGURE 1. This advertisement depicting a company emblem appeared in National Geographic


in 1924. It simultaneously conveys a message of collective power and individualized service.
Reprinted by permission.

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message it conveys is twofold. First, the enormity and power of the organization is
captured through the incorporation of large numbers of people. Secondly, we are reminded
that they remain individuals and presumably are available to serve in a personal manner.
Together they provide a formidable force, but they supposedly dont lose that personal
touch while literally standing for the company and what it does.3
Abstract concepts can be conveyed in the same manner as business principles. For
example, a graphic design accompanying a book review in The New York Times presents
an individuals portrait with the component cells being other individuals (see Figure
2). Here the paradox of individualism is addressed: it is a condition that can be defined
only in relation to others. And finally, actual monumental photographs have been created
where extremely large numbers of people are arranged into formations representing what
is important to them as a collectivity. In these living photographs-much more dramatic examples of visual onomatopoeia because they record actual events-religious and
patriotic themes have predominated: crosses, flags, and military insignias.
In each of these cases an ideal is presented: we are encouraged to buy, conform to, or
accept something we might be ambivalent about. A primary motif underlying them all is the
tension between the individual and society. Modern society has alternately been celebrated as the seedbed of individualism and deplored as its natural enemy, Or, following
Simmel, both tendencies are present, they are in tension, and each has the potential to
predominate. Two photographic practitioners of this monumental style best illustrate these
concerns, and their work provides the basis for the following analysis. The team of Arthur
S . Mole and John D. Thomas initially worked in this mode in the utopian religious
settlement of Zion, Illinois to capture its spirit of communalism, and then operated on
military bases during World War I. These were both situations where the subordination of
individual to collective interests was paramount. And E.O. Goldbeck worked on military
bases throughout the Southwest from World War I through after World War 11, producing
similar photographic tableaux vivants.
This work straddles Goffmans distinction between public and private pictures (1979)
in an interesting way. On the one hand, there was an anonymity to these aggregates;
individuals were expected to meld into a group formation. They were posing for a
purpose-as is the case with many other types of photos-and at the behest of some
director. But on the other hand, participants would also bring a history of social relationships into the situation with them. The formation of these images conflated elements of
the social and the personal, the public and the private.

ANTECEDENTS A N D AFFINITIES
It is impossible to trace the roots of such displays, but some interesting antecedents can be
noted. There is, first of all, religious imagery such as the living body of Christ. This
pictures the figure of Christ made up of the different levels of church membership;
superior positions in the hierarchy were accorded higher positions in the body. This image
predominated before Vatican 11, which democratized the Catholic church.
Providing a curious parallel, too, are the composite paintings of the 16c. Giuseppe
Arcimboldo. Arcimboldo used a variety of materials-fruits, vegetables, animals-in
arrangements replicating human physiognomy. As part of the Hapsburg court in Vienna
and Prague, he created allegorical portraits of the seasons and the natural elements. He

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FIGURE 2. In reviewing a book on individualism, The New York Times utilized visual onomatopoeia to illustrate the interdependence between the individual and society. Copyright
The New York Times Company. Reprinted by permission.

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1985 by

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may have been drawing upon earlier illuminated manuscripts for his technique (de
Mandiargues 1977, p. 381, and he has many heirs, from the designer of c. 1900 French
postcards who used nude females to compose portraits, to the similar photographic work
depicting skulls associated with Salavador Dali in the 1940s (see Hulten et al. 1987).
There is also the procession gtntrale, an 18th century French parade which revealed
social strata and their relative order. As described by Darnton (1985), It was not merely
aimed at some utilitarian objective . . . [but] existed the way many statements and works
of art exist-as sheer expression, a social order representing itself to itself (p. 124). And
finally, these religious and secular displays have been adapted in more contemporary
times by the commercial realm. For example, a recent book cover featured a postcard
from the Piazza San Marco in Venice where an advertising campaign spread birdseed
spelling out the words Coca Cola. This was then transformed into a living photograph
of sorts by the pigeons it attracted (Haug 1986).
At least two similarities are apparent in the examples from the Catholic Church and
18th century French communal customs. First, these displays reflected status hierarchies
and thereby strengthened them. Each communicated a perception of the world that underwrote its naturalness and helped to freeze relations in time, much as Berger (1972) and
Goffman (1979) have demonstrated in the associated worlds of art and advertising. And
second, each exercise subordinated individuals to the commonweal, levelling them within
their rightful positions, and making manifest the physical contours and boundaries of
the group. Both these characteristics are shared to a great extent by the monumental
photographs of the 20th century.
Durkheims observation is aptly illustrated through the execution of these images:
. . . collective sentiments can be conscious of themselves only by fixing themselves upon
external objects, [and] . , . in this way they have come to mix themselves with the life of
the material world (1965 [ 19151, p. 466). To a greater extent than is the case with the
examples of graphic drawings I have cited, this photographic work is both act and artifact;
the individuals involved were both participants and audience. Such exercises were designed
with two distinct motives. First, the moment of production: enacting the event was
intended to concretize membership and underscore the groups purpose. Participation in
this process would literally provide the occasion to come together as otherwise atomized
individuals became critical units in the construction of community. In this sense we have
the photo session as a social ritual. In addition, we have the moment of reproduction: each
actor could potentially own a copy of the resultant photographs (see Benjamin 1969) and
at a later time examine and/or re-live an event which objectified typically amorphous
sentiments. While designed to record communal concerns, these photographs could likewise provide a memento contributing to communal spirit and heightening individual
identification with it.
The variety and persistence of examples of visual onomatopoeia through history boldly
underscore the power of this type of metaphor and its widespread comprehensibility and
appeal. In its photographic expression in particular it is forced to display a degree of
parsimony not necessary in other types of metaphoric expression, as in film, for example.
In the latter, meaning emerges from a sequence of shots and the juxtaposition of images.
In photographic visual onomatopoeia, however, there is only one shot to establish
meaning, which necessitates an extremely concise visualization. This is part of the general
limitation which obtains when using pictures instead of words to communicate. As Worth

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Visual Onomatopoeia

(1981 [1975]) observes, All that pictures can show is what is-on the picture surface. . . . [pictures cannot] . . . do a host of things that a verbal language is designed to
do (pp. 174, 178). But this limitation can be an asset, for a visual metaphor may
be compelling nevertheless.

THE DURKHEIMIAN LEGACY


[In social situations] . . . individuals can use their faces and bodies, as well as small
materials at hand to engage in social portraiture. It is here in these small, local places
that they can arrange themselves microecologically to depict what is taken as their
place in the wider social frame, allowing them, in turn, to celebrate what has been
depicted Goffman 1979, p. 6.

In his discussion of rituals, either those of collective deference (1965 [1915]) or punishment (1964 [1938]), Durkheims main point is clear: they foster group solidarity.
Durkheims ideas rest on the necessity for individuals to come together with regularity, to
experience the group in actuality, and then carry away some reminiscence, be it mental or
material. From his perspective society might not be an empirical fact, but what social
groups create through such rituals-especially totemic figures as metaphors for the groups
existence-most certainly are.
It is likely that Durkheim considered this a general social process, but he concentrated
primarily on primitive societies in his own analysis. And it is to those societies that his
notions most closely correspond. In Gerneinschaftlike groups, individuals would be
seeing one another with some regularity anyway. Rituals would be special instances, but
not too difficult to integrate into the daily round. In Geseflschaji societies, however, there
are the problems of population dispersal over a wider geographical area, a more complicated division of labor separating individuals, and the possibility of different ideological
systems competing for individuals allegiances. Here integration is much more of a
challenge.
Some social theorists have minimized these problematic circumstances. Warner follows
Durkheims lead in his analysis of symbolic behavior and ritual in Yankee City. His
examination of Memorial Day has an extraordinary tone. Yes, there are divisions in the
society-religious and occupational, for example. And yes, they are reflected in such
things as separate organizations and separate cemetaries. However, these diverse segments unite in a moment of ephiphany in the annual parade, reaffirming core values and a
common identity (1959, pp. 248-320)4 Such rites are directly equated with primitive
ceremonies and rites (1959, p. 278).
Shils and Young proceed similarly with their analysis of the coronation ritual in Britain
( 1953), emphasizing its integrative aspects. Again, cooperation and identification are
heightened, otherwise important distinctions which keep people apart are diminished, and
a generalized sense of communion is obtained. In addition, the specialness of the ritual
situation is underlined: Surcease from drabness and routine, from the commonplace and
triviality of daily preoccupation, is certainly one reason for the exaltation (1953, p. 75).
Other analysts have not been convinced by these arguments, however, and have offered
a more critical view from a social (Birnbaum 1955), social psychological (Klapp 1969), or

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psychological (Scheff 1977) perspective. The Durkheimian view has been judged as
coming up somewhat short in explaining the modem situation, at least in these instances.
However, when it works, and to the extent that it does work, ritual is still seen in
Durkheims ideal terns: Effective ritual . . . is unique in that it meets individual and
collective needs simultaneously, allowing individuals, to discharge accumulated distress
and creating social solidarity in the process (Scheff 1977, p. 489).
Ritual continues to be examined according to Durweims conception, but tempered by
the realization that a sense of community might be more limited and transitory than his
analysis allowed. Consequently, studies are conducted from a distinctly Durkheimian
point of view, e.g., Schwartz and Barskys consideration of the home advantage in sports
(1977). Or, expressions of group solidarity through totemic residues are examined
(Slater 1966). More typically, however, intensive interpretive studies are now undertaken
to discover either how rituals allow particular individuals to make sense of natural events
through cultural drama (Myerhoff 1984), how they help subcultural groups understand
and accommodate to a complex society (Hall and Jefferson 1976, Monod 1967), or how in
unusual instances of high ideological consensus in modem societies-the totalitarian
regime of Nazi Gemany, for example-ritual elements can provide vital support (Sontag
1980, Warren 1943).5
Artists and their renderings can help us construct how we perceive reality. As Baxandall
argues, artists in the fifteenth century provided the external visualizations individuals used
to develop and then continually validate their own internal visualizations of key religious
concepts. This enabled them to read what was important in their society with a period
eye, and helped to integrate them (see 1972, pp. 38-71).6 Although the worlds of
religion and art have become increasingly separated in our own time, a similar process
apparently exists, as more secularized concepts are portrayed by more independently
operating craftsmen (see Goffman on advertising, 1979). The artists I consider here
struggled with a dual concern: how to help insure a high degree of compliance from
individuals in greedy or total institutions (Coser 1974, Goffman 1961a), and how to
present an acceptable, reassuring image of those endeavors to a potentially wary larger
society.
Ritual can be linked with the visual realm through an interpretive examination of these
photographers, their motivations and operating rationales, the reception to their work, and
an analysis of the work itself. In so doing it will be possible to discover to what extent the
motivational weight and restorative power Durkheim assigned to rituals accurately characterizes them in modem instances. The present task is different, therefore, from that of
many previous sociologically-minded investigators. For example, Christopherson (1974a,
1974b) and Rosenblum (1978) use sociological tools to analyze a variety of photographic
practitioners, their respective professional and artistic problems, and the over-all structure
of this artistic world. Sontags work (1977) is more aesthetically and philosophically
oriented, as is that of Barthes (1977, 1981). They have interpretive aspects, however, as
do Berger (1980) and Lesy (1973, 1980, 1982).
But only Alloulas 1986 examination of photographic postcards depicting native
scenes in Algeria between 1900 and 1930 undertakes a similar task to my own: a) to
interpret the presumed artistlsubject interaction in their execution and b) to explore the
meaning(s) of the photographs for their audience. This dual focus allows both the process
of producing these images and their social uses to be explored. The consideration of the

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experiental and functional aspects is clearly most indebted to Durkheim, whereas the
interpretive task is informed by a reading of the language of these images along the
lines of Barthes (19811, Eco (1976), Saussure (1959) and other contemporary semioticians.

MOLE AND THOMAS:


RELIGIOUS AND SECULAR PRACTITIONERS
The decline of religion, John Berger suggests, corresponds with the rise of the
photograph (1980, p. 53). Apropos this contention, the utopian religious community of
Zion, Illinois was the site for what appear to be the first living photographs. A brief
recounting of its history will establish a context for understanding their execution. Zion
was founded in 1900 by the Reverend John Dowie, drawing from the congregation of the
Christian Catholic Apostolic Church he had begun in Chicago in 1896. It was intended to
be largely self-sustaining, although the manufacture and marketing of lace provided
contact with the outside (and a sizable profit). Members purchased land leases good until
the year 3000, when the millenium was expected and the ownership of earthIy goods
would no longer matter (Duis and Holt 1979, p. 116).
But all was not well in this Eden. Dowie and his earlier church were the target of over a
hundred lawsuits by disgruntled followers and their relatives (Duis and Holt 1979, p.
116), and a Chicago Tribune article headlined Dowie Elder Mobbed reported the
shouts of hang him greeted this man because of accusations of swindling and the
deaths of children in the community (July 22, 1900, p. 1). Dowies own fate sounds
disturbingly contemporary: he was deposed in 1906 after revelations of marital infidelity
and his possession of a $150,000 home. After he left the community went into bankruptcy because of a $7 million dollar debt (Duis and Holt 1979, p. 118).
The religious heritage persisted, however, leaving an indelible stamp. There were many
prohibitions which closely regulated personal behavior. A ban on public entertainment
prevented the operation of theatres and bowling alleys until 1946 (Duis and Holt 1979, p.
119; see, also, Kusch 1954), and a passion play was mounted for many years. Much can
be learned about the community through the following report:
Faith healing was advocated by the church. This developed the idea that if ones faith
was strong enough one would not die. In fact, people were not supposed to die in Zion,
but since they did, their demise was suppressed. No undertaker or undertakers [sic]
office or hearse was found in all of Zion in the early days. Such work was done at night
and many people just disappeared from sight. Today [1954]there is one mortuary in
Zion, in the very southern end of the retail district. Kusch 1954, p. 53.

It was this community-tom by contradictions and sustained through restrictions-that


Arthur S . Mole and John D. Thomas recorded and celebrated through their work. Mole
joined the community in 1901 and eventually became an ordained deacon (Fisk 1983: no
pagination); Thomas was already in residence as the choir director (Chicago Historical
Society exhibition card 1984). Their first known monumental image was undertaken in
1913 when children and their teachers (all wearing robes and mortar boards) were arranged
into a crown dissected by a cross. Dowie was himself later immortalized by a living image
in 1921 in celebration of the 2 1st anniversary of the founding of the settlement (see Figure
3). Homage was thereby offered to the groups progenitor, whose controversial history

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SYMBOLIC INTERACTION Vol. 13/No. 2/1990

FIGURE 3. The founder and leader of the religious utopian community of Zion, Illinoisdeposed and defamed in real life-was subsequently the subject of a collective tribute (1921).
Photo courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society.

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was conveniently submerged. And in 1928 another religious design was executed, this of
a Christian crusader. Here the community looked forward to its current mission, aggressively
carrying the messages of salvation, wordofGod, faith, righteousness, peace
and truth to the world.
Quotes from the Bible were also enacted by community members. I am the Lord that
healeth thee (Exodus 15:26) is an example (no date). But such religiously-oriented
images make up only part of Mole and Thomass oeuvres. One seemingly secular design
executed in Zion in 1915 was that of a clock, with the living hands pointing to 9 oclock
(Figure 4). Its significance lies in the convergence of religious devotion and everyday life.
A bell would ring from a tower in Zion every day at 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Everyone was
expected to stop their activities and say a prayer at such time (Kusch 1954, p. 51).8
Somewhat in the manner of Renaissance images, then, such pictures provided a visualization and guide to expected behavior, thereby linking the individual and the community
and fulfilling an important social control function.
Distinctly secular images dominated Mole and Thomass work during WW 1. They
travelled extensively to military bases throughout the Midwest and South, as a brochure
they issued advertising 13 of their works attests. Designs included patriotic symbols (the
Liberty Bell, the Statue of Liberty [Figure 51, the American Eagle), military insignias
from Paris Island, S.C. and Ft. Riley, KS., and real or putative leaders (President Wilson,
Uncle Sam [Figures 6 and 71). At the Great Lakes Naval Training Station (neighboring the
Zion settlement) they undertook simpler designs of messages such as Vive La France,
God and the Right, Liberty and Victory. In addition, during World War I1 Mole
executed three more formations (Huson and Rose, 1986, p. 37).
All of Mole and Thomass work demonstrates concern with providing inspirational
models and promoting group cohesion. Through their religious images they were boosting
their own community following the loss of their founder and the discrediting of their
mission. It was a time when internal cohesion was vital, given a hostile environment
conjuring up much different-and markedly negative-views of the group. Their skills
were then readily adapted during the war, another period when the mobilization of morale
was critical. In each case these artists orchestrated the creation of images to strengthen
individual commitment and to help insure group survival.

E.O. GOLDBECK: COMMUNITY ORGANIZER


Imagine the view of human society from the vantage point of an airplane . . . Structure
is recurring sorts of encounters. An imaginary aerial time lapse photograph, then,
would render social structure as a set of light streaks showing the heaviness of social
traffic (Collins 1975, p. 56).

E.O. Goldbeck (1892-1986) was not the only other person working in the living photograph mode, but his work is the best known.g Popular evaluations of his accomplishments
-both contemporaneous and retrospective-have consistently emphasized the Durkheimian qualities to his work. One such account of a monumental photo executed in
1947 remarked that Quite literally, each of the 20,000 men forming this living mosaic is
enacting the air forces motto, Sustineo Alas, (I Uphold the Wings) (Denver Post,

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FIGURE 4. This clock represented a call to religious observance, a reminder that prayers were
to be offered daily at 9:OO a.m. and 9:OO p.m. The image provided a visual referent to underscore
the importance of this prescribed behavior in community memberss minds (1915). Photo courtesy
of the Chicago Historical Society.

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FIGURE 5 . A complex and massive image, the widely reprinted Statue of Liberty photograph
symbolized a central American ideal when the country was challenged by war (1918). Photo
courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society.

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FIGURES 6, 7 . These amazingly detailed portraits dramatized leadership-invested in both real


and mythic figures-at a critically important time. Photos courtesy of the Chicago Historical
Society.

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FIGURE 7

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September 14, 1947, rotogravure picture section A). Similarly, an article surveying his
long career concluded that There is an unwavering feeling of espirits de corps and epic
cooperation [in his pictures] (The Houston PostlSun, January 15, 1984). An examination
of the man and his work will enable us to evaluate these claims.
Goldbeck had an extraordinarily long professional career, and one that was closely
linked with the military. He first photographed army and navy units in 1914 (Burleson and
Hickman 1986, p. 19), and organized massed human formations on bases from 1926 until
1971 (Burleson and Hickman 1986, pp. 43, 84). He regularly toured these sites and also
specialized in documenting the activities of religious, fraternal, and veterans associations
such as the Elks, Freemasons, and Rebekah Assembly. Not only did these groups provide
regular activities involving large numbers of individuals (thereby assuring a lucrative
market), they also reflected his own personal interests and beliefs. He was, for example, a
member and active supporter of the American legion. His work was distinctive and well
known in the Southwest and on military bases, so much so that the following cartoon
appeared at his death: an angel questioning him at heavens gate exclaims Let me get this
straight-you want to take a group portrait of everyone here?!? (San Antonio ExpressNews, October 29 1986, p. 4-B).
His living photographs represent the coalescence of a personal vision, specialized
equipment and techniques, and extremely diligent planning. First, these images obviously
provided more of a challenge than the routine individual portraits and squadron shots he
was often commissioned to do. But as Figures 8 and 10 indicate, what might look like a
straight-forward mimetic project actually required a considerable amount of intuition and
experience. In addition to being an artistic challenge, he strongly believed in using this
expertise on behalf of the military. For example, a letter from a commanding general calls
him an old friend outside the service and then continues, I say outside the service,
realizing that you are about as closely identified with it as is possible for one not being a
member thereof (letter to EOG, September 6, 1940).
Second, he produced modifications of existing equipment and developing procedures to
meet the special requirements of his work (see Burleson and Hickman 1986, pp. 89-109,
and Davenport 1981, pp. 133-155 for detailed discussions). And finally, the logistics of
executing this type of work were amazing. For example, to complete a photo of 20,000
men in 1947 (Figure 11) required the following: 6 weeks of planning, 30 miles of cord and
20,000 white markings on the ground to indicate the exact location of each participant,
and the construction of a 109 foot tower from which to shoot (McClure 1947). Detailed
instructions were also required for all those involved, including what to wear (e.g.,
contrast was generally accomplished by different colored uniforms).
A few of the instructions issued for one formation will provide some sense of the
advance planning that was undertaken:
11. d. WHITE UNIFORM: Will be white civilian shirts with collar (caps may be worn
but will be removed before photographs are made), khaki breaches . . . but no
neckties, shirts to be fully buttoned. . . . in the event some organization commanders
cannot present their command so equipped, men in white are authorized to wear white
issue undershirts without alterations of any kind.

12. Men should be sized in the formation, in so far is possible considering the
restrictions existing regarding their positions, but in any event, exceptionally short
men should not be placed beside exceptionally tall men.
(Memo from camp chief of staff, March 28, 1932).

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FIGURE 8. This diagram demonstrates the elaborate planning preceding each living photograph.
Drawn to replicate the Taro Leaf emblem of the Schofield Barracks in Hawaii in May, 1926, it was
necessary to compensate for the massive distortion caused by shooting photographs from a tower
high above the formation. For example, the distance between men in the front ranks was 16 inches,
whereas the distance between men at the rear was 16 feet. More than 90% of the 8500 men are
located in the upper half of the design. Photography collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research
Center, University of Texas at Austin.

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FIGURE 9. Here the men methodically march into the formation. The location of each unit was
predetermined and marked off, maximizing efficiency and ensuring an accurate representation.
Photography collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin.

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FIGURE 10. The completed project-a record of its execution, and a memento for the participants.
In other words, ritual as act and artifact. Photography collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research
Center, University of Texas at Austin.

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FIGURE 11. The use of black personnel in the center of this living insignia highlighted the
segregation of the armed services-a divisive, not community building policy. Photography
collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin.

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The result was a high degree of clarity of individual faces (Goldbeck claimed every
individual could be seen distinctly in the Lackland photo), and maximum efficiency. The
Taro Leaf insignia of the Hawaiian division-typical of Goldbecks monumental work
-was executed in forty three minutes (letter from EOG, nd 1927).
Morale is the watchword for this work; it is alluded to in Goldbecks own statements,
the official views of commanders, and by the testimony of family members of participants.
While of course interested in the successful marketing of a product, Goldbeck made his
pitch in terms of the value of a picture as a relic recording the individuals experiences:
The [panoramic] picture came out very well, and I am sure you will be mighty proud to
be the owner of one for many years to come when it will bring back many a hard, easy,
tearful and laughing moment (form letter, December 21, 1943).
The concern with morale was evident in several distinct ways, First, within the military,
those in charge judged these photographs to be directly related to espirits de corps. For
example, early in Goldbecks career a base commander testified . . . the possession of
these photos by the enlisted personnel of this command should be encouraged both as an
aid to morale and as a memento of the organization . . . (memo, June 25, 1929). This
remained typical of official sentiments, as the following attests: Needless to say the
photographs were invaluable to the morale of the servicemen, and certainly it [sic] is a
tangible possession they will treasure in the future. The expeditious manner in which you
performed the actual photography was astounding (letter from commanding general,
March 27 1950). Both of these accounts underscore the value of having a concrete group
experience and then preserving it. These commanders assumed the importance of this
society was thereby revealed to their men and their attachment to it would be strengthened
henceforth.
Similar testimony from family members suggests a second morale function: cultivating
and maintaining support outside the military. For those on the home front, these
pictures might alleviate the anxiety of separation and mollify concern: My hubby was in
that picture . . . [and] I am very anxious to have it. My husband can be seen very clearly in
the picutre, and being he is overseas now, Id be so happy to have a picture of him and his
division (letter, December 31 1943). The picture is doubly meaningful in this case: the
individual is distinctly shown, but is also surrounded by his division. The personal
connection is established yet he is not seen as being alone (or, presumably, vulnerable).
Finally, a favorable image could increase the militarys attractiveness and potentially
contribute to recruitment efforts. This was an additional angle Goldbeck himself developed
to solicit further photo opportunities: A million dollars, or several million dollars for that
matter, would not pay for such all encompassing publicity, no doubt the greatest amount
of favorable notice and acclaim the Air Force has ever received at one time. How many
young men have been directly influenced into enlisting into the Air Force is, of course,
difficult to estimate accurately, but it is certainly not an unreasonable assumption that out
of the many millions who saw reproductions of this eye arresting publicity, many thousands were favorably impressed (EOG to base commander, January 23 1948)
The consensus of all this testimony is that these living photographs were, indeed, a
valuable adjunct to the building of community and the maintenance of commitment in
several realms. Durkheim would undoubtedly be pleased if he were to examine this
material. However, his approach would accept these visual illusions from the outside, that
is, without much consideration of the participants point of view and actual response. A

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closer analysis of other evidence reveals a disjuncture between purpose and outcome,
however, and raises additional important issues.

WHEN RITUAL FOUNDERS


Perhaps there are times when an individual does mqch up and down like a wooden
soldier, tightly rolled up in a particular role. It is true that here and there we can pounce
on a moment when an individual sits fully astride a single role, head erect, eyes front,
but the next moment the picture is shattered into many pieces and the individual
divides into different persons holding the ties of different spheres of life . . .
(Goffman 1961b. p. 143)

There is not one privileged position from which to view this body of work; when the
observer alters his vantage point, a different social topography emerges. So if we question
what we may have taken for granted until now, we can appreciate a critical paradox: the
morale building effects of these exercises and photographic rememberances are not actually corroborated by the rank and file participants.
While the intentions of those who sponsored visual onomatopoetic exercises may have
been to bring people together to fortify their sense of group allegiance, what actually
transpired was both more complicated and more ambiguous. These dramatizations appear
to be coherent, self-contained statements, but like other forms of social interaction they
fall apart in certain respects when they are scrutinized closely (Garfinkel 1967). One
indication of this is that although Goldbecks archive contains the most arcane material,
the men themselves are curiously silent about this being important to them. However, the
presence of many examples of reminder letters sent to those who did not pay for and pick
up their picture orders are clear indications that compliance to the ritual of symbol making
and community building did not guarantee increased cohesion or on-going support.
Goldbeck used a combination of approaches to encourage purchases, viz., the following:
The paper shortage . . . is far worse now than during the War; consequently we have
only been able to take care of but a fraction of the orders so far received for our recently
made . . . wonderful telephoto birdseye view of Lackland Air Base [San Antonio, TX].
Believe it or not, but you are one of the fortunate few whose order we have been able to
fill (form letter, August 23 1947). And if this type of appeal didnt spur a response,
perhaps another might: We know that these photographs will become truly invaluable as
the years go on and that you would not take many times the amount you are paying for
them a few years from now (form letter, July 31, 1944). In each instance the individual
was encouraged to recognize an importance which had theretofore escaped him.
This was a significant problem. In fact, the Lackland photo (Figure 11)-considered by
many to be Goldbecks triumph in the living photo format-was reprinted in the media
world-wide, but was not received so enthusiastically by its participants.13 Taken in late
July, 1947, only 25% of the print orders were paid for two months later, much to
Goldbecks dismay (letter to commanding general, September 23, 1947). And there
continued to be a poor rate of return on this project, which prompted additional complaint:
. . . having personally served our Air Forces in both World Wars and with three sons
serving this branch in the last War (one of whom [made] the most precious sacrifice

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and contribution any family could make, [when he] gave the full measure of devotion
and did not return), it is our firm conviction that no man in the Air Force, young or old,
would knowingly welch, renig [sic] or try to crawfish out of such an obligation if he
were reminded to do so was not honorable and would surely cast a blot or shadow on
the fair escutcheon of his organization. . . . Isnt it equally important, especially in an
Indoctrination Center, that all men receive proper moral as well as physical training,
and in this respect isnt it incumbent on the Officers to set a proper moral example at
all times?
. . . Figures speak more eloquently than words; hence the present status of Lackland
Air Base accounts . . . clearly indicates the degree of non-cooperation.
Letter to commanding general, January 23, 1948.

What becomes evident is that there were different levels of involvement and vested
interest in these photographic ventures. For both the officers and Goldbeck himself, this
was a serious undertaking which should command full attention and respect. From the
formers point of view, for the symbolic capital it could create; and for the latter, real
capital was at stake. For the participants, however, what was supposed to be an intense,
socio-emotional experience had to be rationally devised beforehand and tightly regimented
in the name of efficiency.
There is a great deal of irony in this. Goldbecks keen ability to reduce the time
necessary to execute such a monumental event in fact may have detracted from its
ceremonial significance. It is true that this would be a unique event for each group,
whereas it was routine for the photographer. However, it presents a metaphor for army
discipline in general as much as anything (see Figure 9) What was supposed to be a ritual
of affirmation and celebration provided little room for spontaneity and release, and thereby
minimized whatever sense of pleasure or special distinction the group might experience.
This was, then, a situation with an extreme division of labor. In this respect it was perhaps
ideally suited to orchestrating ritual in an industrial society, but not necessarily conducive
to developing spirit. I4
One might assert that these events were a break from routine (Burleson and Hickman
1986, p. 72). However, it is more likely that there would be a mixture of responses: awe
and respect could be counterbalanced by a sense of both freedom from usual situations and
obligations, and a freedom to act differently. For the gung-ho soldier, the first set of
responses would be typical. For others, however, some acting out could occur without
small deviations from prescribed attitudes and behaviors significantly disrupting the collective image.
In fact, this is what a close examination of the living insignia photograph from the 36th
Division, Palacios, Texas (July, 1926) reveals (see Figure 12). We can witness a range of
reactions to the situation here, from focused attention to self-conscious mugging, and with
some men shielding their eyes from the sun. Similar observations can be made in Mole
and Thomass work, for example, in a WW 1 formation of President Wilsons face
(Figure 6). Here some participants can be seen scratching and waving, while in a later
formation some people are turning away from the camera and talking. Instead of capturing
an ideal picture, then, we have a microcosm of what could reasonably be expected in any
society, with the display of a variety of activity rather than complete uniformity.
This suggests a theme prominent throughout much of Goffmans work. Instead of
taking role playing and social interaction for granted, he has alerted us to the many ways

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SYMBOLIC INTERACTION Vol. 13/No. 211990

FIGURE 12. A micro analysis of this photo reveals affective deviance from the situation. A
range of responses to the situation-not unanimity of support-is apparent. Photography collection,
Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin (detail of living insignia
of the 36th division).

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these are tenuous ventures at best. With his discussions of secondary adjustments (1961a),
role distance (1961b), situational improprieties (1963) and misinvolvements and disengagements (1967), he has consistently examined the gap between role obligations and
actual performances. For Goffman Joint involvement appears to be a fragile thing . . .
(1967, p. 117), and Whats one mans overeagerness will become anothers alienation
(1967, p. 123). Obviously, then, actors bring different motives and definitions of the
situation to any interaction, and we should expect some resistance and disaffection.
Inevitably someone will act differently from what is officially sanctioned. Goffman allows
for there to be important breathing space produced by the contradictions of a situation
where the individual can refuse in some degree-however small-to hand over the total
self.
Goffman is characterizing the affective deviant. This role is typical and expected,
although not normatively sanctioned (1961b, p. 115), recalling Durkheims notion of the
inevitability of deviance. There is something of a paradox here, however. Although we
are to expect deviance even in a society of saints (1964 [ 1938]), when Durkheim talks
about ritual he infers that everyone is reverential and observant (1965 [1915]). Ritual is
supposed to be serious, focused business, with even the celebratory aspects being obligatory.
We should not expect anything other than total involvement. But this visual evidence
suggests that in the contemporary world this is more ideal than real (see Scheff 1977).
These exercises had ritual attributes, yet participation in them was dictated from the
outside instead of being inner-directed. Individuals were first made to contribute their
bodies to a group effort, and then expected to pledge their souls as well. But for a portion
of them this process struck a distinctly discordant note, and it failed to activate complete
value consensus. To invoke a distinction made by Barthes (1981), each person in these
photos is a punctum, holding themselves in opposition to or in congruence with the
official framework of the situation.
There is an additional way that these photos can reveal the reality of society rather than
record a fanciful view. The 1947 Lackland AFB photo (figure 11) reproduces a fact
contradictory to the notion of community solidarity. Goldbeck typically used different
colored uniforms or different degrees of formal dress to provide contrast (see Figure 10,
for example). In the Lackland photo, however, he used black soldiers to create a dark
circle in the center of the design. These participants are restricted to a rather small area
and they are surrounded by those who are racially different. Individual soldiers were therefore literally integrated into the grand design of this group, but ironically replicated the
segregation policy of the armed services as well. There is no record to indicate whether
Goldbeck was making a self-conscious social statement or exercising his artistic judgment
here. However, this idealized formulation vividly drew attention to a situation which was
later remedied in the military.15.
These photographic exercises were obviously adjuncts to well-established processes of
military discipline and morale building. But it is important to note when many of them
were undertaken-at critical moments of pre- or post-mobilization, when there was no
clearly defined enemy to respond to, no immediate sense of purpose, and when collective
identity would therefore be more diffuse. When he returned to work at Schofield Barracks
in Hawaii in 1935, for example, Goldbeck found a different situation than when he had
been there in 1926 (see Figure 10): There was a new tone to the Army. An undercurrent
of tension, tempered with a heightened level of anticipation. Events in Europe, combined

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with increasing Japanese aggression in the Pacific, made the military uneasy (Burleson
and Hickman 1986, p. 52). Poised to act but not yet mandated to fight, the army could use
reminders of what it stood for, especially when they graphically displayed its cohesion.
A similar situation obtained after the war. The Derroit Free Press printed the Lackland
photo in 1947 with the headline An Air Force Rebdm Looks Ahead with Confidence.
However, the accompanying text reveals a more complicated situation:
Though it should be in the prime of life, the Air Force,finds itself with two problems.
1-It has just come of age. The recent National Security Act made it an independent unit, no longer an arm of the Army.
2-It doesnt yet appear to have the vigor to do the work cut out for it. (August 1,
1947)

Combat precludes the need for material proof of strength, solidarity or legitimacy. But
these are not givens in a noncombative era. The military intended the Lackland photo to
help ally doubts it had internally, and to display a united front externally. To address both
these problems they produced emblems to symbolically supplement other efforts. Socially
ambiguous times produced the need for an assertion of material identity, but the unenthusiastic reception accorded some of these symbols by those who were mobilized to
participate in their formation demonstrates that the photos were only partially successful
in addressing the mens needs.

DISCUSSION: SOCIAL GROUPS OBSERVED


Visual onomatopoeia is not generally scrutinized closely, even though it provides a
convenient frame (Goffman 1974) for organizing experience. It highlights the problem of
how culture is represented back to the group that spawns it, an issue which has engaged
semioticians following Peirce on the one hand and Saussure on the other; sociologists
taking up a parallel debate in support of either Durkheim or Goffman; or in this particular
instance, those emphasizing either act or artifact. Neither position from these opposed
pairs of distinctions sufficiently equips us to fully analyze actual social occurrences, yet a
synthesisof these supposed differences holds the promise of comprehensive understanding.
Visual onomatopoeia is a ritual form uniquely suited for situations where social control
is of paramount importance. For example, the militarys entitlement to violence places it
on both the real and symbolic boundaries of society, thereby rendering it a potential threat
to those it is mandated to servei. In times of pre- and post-mobilization it is all geared up
with nowhere (outside) to go. Here visual onomatopoeia would provide the opportunity to
exercise army discipline and reassure the public that the guardians themselves were
effectively under control. In an intentional community such as Zion this device also
demonstrated that members were disciplined and would defer to group demands. Its visual
displays revealed a structured society dedicated to a shared religious mission, not one
where individuals with dubious purposes would likely prevail.
Visual onomatopoeia makes visible what might otherwise be too inchoate to comprehend.
Its use assumes that we hold in common an easily-activated way of interpreting what we
see. For example, an illustration for an article on rising unemployment spelled out
Reaganomics by picturing individuals pouring from an unemployment office and

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forming the phrase with their bodies (Newsweek January 18, 1982, p. 25). The common
complaint that statistics obscure the individual case (and in this situation, individual
misery) was mediated by use of this device, while both the individual and collective
dimensions of the problem were highlighted. Similarly, a participant in an antinuclear
protest observed With all the support for the Thatcher Government, sometimes you feel
you might as well give up, said Cressida Evans, a University of London student who was
among 20,000 people who sat on the grass to form a giant human peace symbol. Then
you come to see something like this, and you see all these thousands of people (The
New York Times, October 27, 1985, p. 3).
This example not only attests to the regeneration of individual morale, but the event
also provided evidence of the existence and potential strength of this typically unmoblized
group. To reiterate a statement from the introduction of this article, it illustrates that
Ritual is a form by which culture presents itself to itself Myerhoff 1984, p. 155).
Protest organizers did not manufacture this cultural form by themselves, but drew upon a
familiar way of representing ideas and confirming identities.
Visual onomatopoeiain this particular case was used for oppositionalpurposes,6 demonstrating that postmodern society, rather than necessarily eviscerating vital social forms
and presenting hollow spectacles (see Dubord 1977), can in fact draw upon long-standing
forms of expression to critically assail present social conditions. Admittedly, however,
the bulk of examples presented here affirm conventional values and activities, mixing
Durkheimian concerns with high-camp style. Instances such as the formations executed
during football game half-times are much more common. In a variety of circumstances a
similar intent is evident. Within the normative guidelines of contests, displays of visual
onomatopoeia can mobilize support against the opponents. It helps to delineate the us
from the them. In situations of real external threats to an entire society-in war time,
for example-such displays can also rally individuals to the cause, heightening the sense
of common identity and justifying the subordination of individual to collective concerns.
Similarly, when such threats are anticipated, visual onomatopoeia could quell doubts
about group strength and individual responsibilities. And the situation would be much the
same after the culmination of conflicts, where the assessment of past sacrifices and current
abilities would be critical.
Likewise, conditions internal to social groups which threaten the continued identification and contributions of their members could also generate such displays. These would
trigger a coded message that something persists over time and over and above the individual,
despite immediate problems. In such cases, visual onomatopoeia would be somewhat
diversionary, downplaying what might potentially draw away the allegianceof individuals.
It is an important ritual device for liminal occasions many social groups routinely
experience. But whether the situation where visual onomatopoeia is employed is one of
affirmation or defiance, the relationships between individuals and groups and groups to
one another are dramatically addressed.
The variety of examples I have cited lies along several axes which link them despite
their apparent differences. There is the axis of participation, ranging from voluntary to
involuntary, which also relates to the degree of commitment-high or low-both to the
group in general as well as to the specific visual onomatopoetic project. Paralleling these
features is the axis of naturalness, anchored by the poles of candid on the one end and
posed on the other. Here the degree of similarity to other communal activities is important.

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And temporality is another variable, ranging from ephemeral associations (the antinuclear
protest), to groups which are continually replenished with different personnel (the military),
to rather stable, on-going communities (Zion). The axis of intent must also be considered,
from the socio-emotional end (of more concern to participants and their leaders) to the
instrumental and/or commercial end (also important to leaders, andor artisans). In addition,
the intended audience can be restricted to the participants or extend to the wider world,
that is, this can be a private experience or a public pronouncement. And finally, the
public/private dimension can be configured in another way: the overriding concern of a
public emphasis would be the transmission of a particular message or the artistic design,
whereas a more private concern would dictate the clear portrayal of individual participants
within a formation. While it is likely that these characteristics would cluster in distinctive
ways in regard to different types of groups, the potential combinations are obviously
unlimited.
I have presented visual onomatopoeia primarily as a marginal phenomenon utilized by
marginal groups. However, it is but one example of the genre of memorial photographs,
differing from more commonplace family and small group images mainly in terms of scale
and elaboration of design. Photographic events both large and small enact and enshrine
social relationships in a memorial form. The photographic presentation of selves at all
levels-from immense communal clusters to intimate primary groups-ritualistically
dramatizes such central social questions as conformity, deviance, engagement, cohesion
and impression management.
What we cannot see or touch is often what is most important to us. When such concepts
can be portrayed visually-whether they be religious or secular ideas-we have a very
powerful and group sustaining metaphoric device. Following Weber, visual onomatopoeia
is one form of monumental expression in the modern world that taps the chord of community and tries to raise it from pianissimo to a shout.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Support for this research was partially provided by grants from the SUNY-Purchase
Faculty Support Fund and the New York StateKJnited University Professions New Faculty
Development Fund. Earlier versions of this article were presented at the University of
Chicago Culture and Society Workshop, March, 1988 and at the 83rd Annual Meeting of the
American Sociological Association, August, 1988 in Atlanta, Georgia. I thank Wendy
Griswold, Randy Martin, Mary Jo Neitz, Dennis Wheaton and Eviatar Zerubavel for their
suggestions and comments and also the staffs at the Chicago Historical Society and the
Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center in Austin, Texas for their assistance in conducting the research.

NOTES
1 . Trompe loeil is a sight gag, a painting technique that tricks the eye. Woodgrain or marble can
be simulated on other materials, or murals might depict something that is not there, for example, a
wall of windows where none exist or clouds on the interior ceiling of a room.
2. And as Bronner further notes, we envision executive heads, judical arms, and legislative
bodies ( 1986, p. 157).
After I had completed this research, I discovered that Howard Becker had raised much the same

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21 3

concern: Many sociological concepts, whose meaning seems [sic] intuitively clear, would be very
hard to portray visually. . . . no one can be sure what an instance of status integration would look
like and thus no one can photograph it (1974, p. 20). This echoes Freuds comments on the
elements of dream work, where he notes the difficulty of transforming thoughts into visual images
(1977, pp. 175-77), and Sol Worths contention that pictures cannot do a number of things words
can, e.g., they cannot express conditionals, negatives, and past and future tenses (1981 [ 19751, p.
178).
3. Such advertisements. can entail considerable hyperbole, as illustrated in a promotion for a
French chemical and pharmaceutical company, RhBne-Poulenc. Their logo was pictured in a December 2, 1987 display in the New York Times, formed by stars into a new constellation. The accompanying text stated, Welcome to a world of constant expansion. Not only employees but the
heavens themselves would seem to be under company command here. And an ad for Wadsworth
Publishing Company in the 1988 ASA program used a similar device, featuring a drawing with
people grouped into a giant W. My sense is that this type of representation is utilized in
sociology texts to address the problem Becker notes (see Note #2).
4 . For a humorous, fictional account of the same events-albeit emphasizing their antagonistic,
competitive nature-see Keillor (1985, pp. 118-123).
5. Sontags analysis of the Nazi orchestration of public displays-as recorded in the films of
Leni Riefenstahl, for example-demonstrates the power of such exercises. What she describes as
fascist aesthetics shares obvious similarities with what I am describing: it . . . take [s] the form
of a characteristic pageantry: the massing of groups of people; the turning of people into things; the
multiplication or replication of things; and the grouping of people/things around an all-powerful,
hypnotic leader-figure or force (1980, p. 91).
A particularly striking example of this principle is a living swastika formed by police units at the
Berlin Sports Palace in 1934 (in Wilden 1987, p. 292). An unusual feature of this display is that the
men are lying down in the formation. Their partisanship is accentuated at the same time that their
subordination to the principles behind the image is underscored.
6. This theme has been picked up by others: in the decoration of Jesuit churches in 17th century
Italy, Attention must be concentrated exclusively on the [religious] subject of the frescoes, which
should be read like a sermon, more effective because paint lasted and words vanished (Haskell
1980, p. 68).
7. In Michael Lesys popular work he utilizes an approach that is interpretive, but his 1973
work explores the luck of community as revealed through photographic evidence. And in his 1982
book he sees photos as a collision between skill and serrendipitous conditions (p. xix), unlike
the purposeful acts 1 am examining.
8. One event in the 1987 bicentenary celebration of the U.S. constitution provided an interesting parallel. At a designated time (1:30 p , m , , September 16) people were urged to recite the Pledge
of Allegiance and the Preamble to the Constitution, Wherever you are . . . near a radio or TV . . .
at school, at home or in the office . . . you are invited to join in A Celebration of Citizenship
(New York Times, September 6, 1987 p. E15). Of additional interest is that both texts were printed
in full for reference.
9. Goldbeck collected living photographs executed by other practioners of the form. Although
they are in his archive, little is now known about these individuals and their careers.
Goldbecks own reputation has been increasing the past few years, and has extended beyond its
original boundaries. His work has been shown in photographic galleries for its artistic qualities, and
three monographs have been written about him.
10. Goldbecks expenses in making a shot were often quite high, but the monetary return could
be substantial as well. He claimed that his expenses (e.g., planning, tower building, supplies,
transportation, salaries, etc.) for the Lackland photo (figure 11) were over $17,500 (memo, January,
1948). However, more than once he sold $25,000 worth of work from one negative (Sun-Antonio
Express-News June 14, 1975, p. 1B).

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SYMBOLIC INTERACTION Vol. 13/No. 2/1990

11. This and all subsequent quotes from original sources are from documents in the E.O.
Goldbeck collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at
Austin.
12. Goldbeck often worked in a large, panoramic format, as large as 10 by 65. The Taro
Root picture shown here was originally 8 X 20, and the Lackland AFB shot was 16 X 13.
13. It was also blasted by the Chicago Daily Tribune which characterized it as an . . . utterly
useless, time-wasting, money-wasting enterprise . . . If it was the purpose of the stunt to prove to
the people of this country that military appropriations are excessive, it succeeded admirably (July
29, 1947, p. 8). The basis of the attack was the misperception that staff time was used in the
planning and execution of the work. Goldbeck rebutted these charges, and his response was carried
in a letters column on August 4, 1947, p. 16.
14. Interestingly, Victor Turner (1978) emphasizes the obligatory nature of ritual in regard to
tribal or agrarian societies, and notes that industrial societies generally allow for more spontaneity in
ritual activities. This may not be contradictory to the evidence offered here, however, if we consider
the military and its form of discipline uncharacteristic of how most segments of society are allowed
to conduct their lives.
In fact, the necessity of strict discipline for such projects is underscored in a particularly humorous chapter of the history of the fictional community of Lake Wobegon. In 1945 a living flag was
successfully completed, directly drawing upon the solidarity generated by the wars ending. In the
following years, however, civic discipline eroded and the project failed as participants broke rank to
run up to a building roof to view the spectacle in full color for themselves (Keillor 1985, pp.
98-100). A Life article on Mole and Thomas makes a similar point: In those days a command to
stand still and shut up carried a good deal more weight than it does now . . . (1971, p. 82),
expediting execution of these photographic exercises.
15. Segregation in all branches of the military was formally ended by President Trumans
Executive Order 9981, issued in July, 1948. Prior to that time there had been separate units for
blacks and whites, separate blood banks, and a severe limitation on the positions open to black
servicemen (e.g., in 1940 all enlisted men were confined exclusively to cooking and meal service
details). In 1949 the air force opened all training possibilities and job specialties to all servicemen,
and by 1954 all Negro divisions had been abolished throughout the military (see Wesley, 1968, pp.
179- 198).
16. Other examples can be cited, viz., the formation of a cross by gay activists in the street in
front of St. Patricks Cathedral in NY to protest the Catholic churchs negative stance toward homosexuality (Advocate, News in brief, April 12, 1988, p. 22), and the formation of the slogan
NO CUTS! by approximately 800 students, faculty and staff at SUNY-Purchase in May,
1989 to protest proposed budget cuts.
17. In Webers words, It is not accidental that our greatest art is intimate and not monumental,
nor is it accidental that today only within the smallest and most intimate circles, in personal human
situations, in pianissimo, that something is pulsating which corresponds to the prophetic pneuma,
which in former times swept through the great communities like a firebrand, welding them together
(Gerth and Mills 1958, p. 155).

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