The soldier stands in the center; a flagpole grows from his hat as if he were a symbol of his patriotic dedication. On his newly uniformed body, his belt has not yet found its comfortable, horizontal position. The tent behind him speaks of future uncertainty. To his right is his past: the solid building, well-dressed people, a young girl wearing a white dress. He is the meeting of these two worlds.
Traditional composition forbade a central division of a picture. In our century, such proscriptions are anachronistic. Photography broke the old rules. Snapshots do not lay on their makers a sense of aesthetic responsibility.
Although the photographer must have paid little conscious attention to symbolism, this photograph contains much. Besides the flag, the tent, and the solid building, we notice that the tent stakes echo his feet as they stick out of the ground at angles which parallel his puttee—enclosed calves.
The girl’s virginal outfit and oversized bow symbolize purity; her frown speaks of her anxiety. She represents traditional values, the safety of home a soldier must leave. The man behind her looks out of the frame, indicating that the world does not end at the picture’s edge.
Photo Courtesy of Michael Simon