Wednesday, June 17, 2015

DAZZLE | The Hidden Story of Camouflage

Dazzle: The Hidden Story of Camouflage
Above Coming soon is a wonderful Australian documentary called DAZZLE: The Hidden Story of Camouflage, produced by Jonnie & Kate Films.The updated trailer is online here.

•••

 Anon, WILL BE A CAMOUFLEUR: Harry D. Mapes May See Service in France Before Long, in the Ottawa Herald (Ottawa KS), March 13, 1918. p. 1—

Ottawa may soon have a representative in the ranks of the camoufleurs in France. Harry D. Mapes, now piano player at the Star theater, recently applied to the war department for enlistment in that service and has received word that, although there is not an opening now, he may be called in the near future.

Camoufleurs are the men who belong to the camouflage companies. It is their duty to conceal batteries of artillery and the like. Batteries sometimes are painted so that the colors will blend with the landscape. To deceive the enemy by making objects less conspicuous is the camoufleur's work. Mr. Mapes has been a painter.

Everett Warner WWI ship model (two views of same)

additional sources

















Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Ship Camouflage Artist | More on Henry C. Grover

WWI dazzle-painted US ship [color added]
A couple of years ago, we posted information about World War I American ship camoufleur Henry C. Grover, but wished we knew more. Today, we are slightly better informed, having just found a newspaper article with the headline: HENRY C. GROVER CHOSEN CAMOUFLAGE SECRETARY. Boston Sunday Globe (February 3, 1918), p. 10—

A Boston commercial artist was yesterday appointed camouflage secretary of the Emergency Fleet Corporation. He is Henry C. Grover of 79 Mount Vernon Street, Melrose, who has a studio at 44 Bromfield Street. The first announcement of the appointment came yesterday afternoon, when Mr. Grover, as one of the guests at the Canadian Club luncheon at the City Club, was introduced by his new title. He leaves for Washington today to assume his new duties, which will take him to many American ports.

Mr. Grover was in the recruiting subcommittee of the Boston Committee on Public Safety, and through his work there he came to the attention of officials of the Emergency Fleet Corporation. The Globe of December 23, 1898 , printed a story of Yankee enterprise at Santiago [during the Spanish-American War], about a Boston boy who displayed a sign well known to Bostonians. It was about Mr. Grover, then a private in Company A, Second Massachusetts Regiment, USV, orderly for Brigadier General William Ludlow.

Mr. Grover says there's nothing new in camouflage. "The Indians used it," he says. "The French are doing the greatest tricks with it now. The Yankees ought to be able to show them all something about it."

"Camouflage is a new name for an old idea. Some folks camouflage with words, others with money, others with clothes. We'll try it with the brush and paint pot—and other things." Mrs. Grover and their three-year-old son will remain in Melrose for the present.

more info

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Ship Camouflage and Alzheimer's

Burnell Poole, two views of HMS Mauretania (c1920)
Above For a long time we have known about a wonderful painting by American artist Burnell Poole of the starboard side of the dazzle-camouflaged HMS Mauretania (top). But only recently did we learn that he also created a companion painting (bottom), which shows the port side of the same ship. It clearly shows its camouflage. When dazzle ship camouflage was initiated during World War I, it was decided that no ship should have the same camouflage pattern on both sides. The original paintings are housed in the collections of the Merseyside Maritime Museum, and the US Navy Art Collection, respectively.

•••

The following is a brief excerpt from Roy R. Behrens' "Khaki to khaki (dust to dust): the ubiquity of camouflage in human experience" just published in Ann Elias, Ross Harley and Nicholas Tsoutas, eds, Camouflage Cultures: Beyond the Art of Disappearance (Sydney University Press, 2015). Among its other contributors are Donna West Brett, Paul Brock, Ann Elias, Ross Gibson, Amy Hamilton, Pamela Hansford, Jack Hasenpusch, Ian Howard, Husuan L. Hsu, Bernd Hüppauf, Ian McLean, Jacqueline Millner, Jonnie Morris, Brigitta Olubas, Nikos Papastergiadis, Tanya Peterson, Nicholas Tsoutas, Linda Tyler and Ben Wadham

How is it that we experience "things" in contrast to surrounding "stuff"?… Like you, I even see my "self" this way. "I am I" and, to follow, I am not "not-I." We typically regard our “selves” as permeable identities in a bouillabaisse of ubiquitous “stuff,” a surrounding that seems to a newborn, in the famous words of William James, like “a blooming, buzzing confusion.”  One wonders if this might also explain, as Ernst Schachtel suggested, why we are all afflicted by “childhood amnesia,” leaving us with little or no memory of the first years of our lives, because we lacked the “handles” then—the linguistic categories—that enable us to “grasp” events. In recent years, increased attention has been paid to the various forms of “amnesia” at the opposite end of life, including gradual memory loss, senility, dementia, and the horrifying ordeal of Alzheimer’s. If the boundaries of our figural “self” are blurred when we are newborns, perhaps we should not be surprised that the limits of our “self” grow thin—once again—as we march to the end of existence.

As adults, we use hackneyed phrases like “dust to dust” to imply that at birth we somehow spring from naught; that we metamorphically evolve through infancy and childhood; live out our ritualistic lives as corporeal upright adults; then slowly—or, just as often, catastrophically—“deconstruct”; and (at last) are literally “disembodied” in the process that we dread as death. Instead of saying “dust to dust,” it may be more in tune to say “khaki to khaki,” since it seems as if our lives consist of time-based re-enactments of a spectrum of nuanced relations between figure and ground, some or all of which pertain to varieties of camouflage. 

additional sources
 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Irvin Cobb and Camouflage: The SS Tuscania Sinks

Camouflaged SS Tuscania (c1918)
The following are excerpts pertaining to World War I ship camouflage from the wartime writings of American author Irvin S. Cobb. The text appeared initially in the Saturday Evening Post (August 1918), and was then reprinted in his book, The Glory of the Coming: What Mine Eyes Have Seen of Americans in Action in This Year of Grace and Allied Endeavor (George H. Doran, 1918). Cobb left for Europe with a convoy of twelve ships (the SS Tuscania among them), four of which were later sunk by German U-boats.

As described in Anita Lawson's biography, Irvin S. Cobb (Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1984), his daughter was there to wave good-bye as he sailed off on the RMS Baltic. She wrote: "I remember the shock of seeing that his ship was camouflaged and realizing that it was thus strangely striped and stippled because it was going into the most perilous places and with my father aboard it."

As described in the article, near the end of the voyage on February 5, 1918, the SS Tuscania was sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of England, with the result that 250 passengers died. Cobb's own ship was close enough to witness the sinking.

Shown above is a contemporaneous illustration of the SS Tuscania, which was painted in a dazzle camouflage scheme. Other ship camouflage illustrations from 1918 (all of which were published in the Saturday Evening Post) are interspersed throughout the text.

Because she was camouflaged with streaky marks and mottlings into the likeness of a painted Jezebel of the seas, because she rode high out of the water, and wallowed as she rode, because during all those days of our crossing she hugged up close to our ship, splashing through the foam of our wake as though craving the comfort of our company, we called her things no self-respecting ship should have to bear. But when that night, we stood on the after-deck of our ship, we running away as fast as our kicking screw would take us, and saw her going down, taking American soldier boys to death with her in alien waters, we drank toasts standing up to the poor old Tuscania.…



We had known in advance that there were guns in great number disposed about the surrounding terrain. Walking about under military guidance in the afternoon we had seen sundry batteries ensconced under banks, in thickets and behind low natural parapets where the earth ridged up; and had noted how cunningly they had been concealed from airplanes scouting above and from the range of field glasses in the German workings on beyond.

But we had no notion until then that there were so many guns near by or that some of them were so close to the village where we had stopped to eat. We must almost have stepped on some of them without once suspecting their presence. The ability of the French so well to hide a group of five big pieces, each with a carriage as large as a two-ton truck and each with a snout projecting two or three yards beyond it, and with a limber projecting out behind it, shows what advances the gentle arts of ambuscade and camouflage have made since this war began. Seen upon the open road a big cannon painted as it is from muzzle to breach with splotchings of yellows and browns and ochres seems, for its size, the most conspicuous thing in the world. But once bedded down in its nest, with its gullet resting upon the ring back of earth that has been thrown up for it, and a miracle of protective coloration instantaneously is achieved. Its whole fabric seems to melt into and become a part of the soil and the withered herbage and the dirt-colored sandbags which encompass it abaft, alongside and before. It is the difference between a mottled snake crawling across a brick sidewalk and the same snake coiled and motionless amid dried leaves and boulders in the woods. Nature always has protected her wild creatures thus; it took the greatest of wars for mankind to learn a lesson that is as old as creation is.… 




But the quarters of the flying machines, through their vastness and isolation, acquire a certain quality of catching the eye that is entirely lacking for the rest of the picture—the big hangars in the background, suggesting by their shape and number the pitched encampment of a three-ring circus; the flappy canvas shields at the open side of the dromes, which being streaked and daubed with paint camouflage, enhance the carnival suggestion by looking, at a distance, like side-show banners; the caravans of trucks drawn up in lines; and in fine weather the flying craft resting in the landing field, all slick and groomed and polished, like a landed proprietor's blooded stock, giving off flashes from aluminum and varnish and steel and deft cabinetwork in answer to the caresses of the sunshine.…




Master of theatrical trick and device that he is, none the less David Belasco could learn lessons at our camouflaging plant. He probably would feel quite at home there, too, seeing that the place has a most distinctive behind-the-scenes atmosphere of its own; it is a sort of overgrown combination of scenery loft, property room, paint shop and fancy-dress costumer's establishment, where men who gave up sizable incomes to serve their country in this new calling work long hours seeking to improve upon the artifices already developed—and succeeding—and to create brand-new ones of their own.

As a branch of military modernism camouflaging is even newer than the trade of scientific salvaging is and offers far larger opportunities for future exploitation. After all there are just so many things and no more that may be done with and to a pair of worn-out rubber boots, but in the other field the only limits are the limits of the designer's individual ingenuity and his individual skill.

We came, under guidance, to a big open-fronted barracks where hundreds of French women and French girls made screenage for road protection and gun emplacements. The materials they worked with were simple enough: rolls of ordinary chicken wire, strips of burlap sacking dyed in four colors—bright green, yellowish green, tawny and brown—and wisps of raffia with which to bind the cloth scraps into the meshes of the wire. For summer use the bright green is used, for early spring and fall the lighter green and the tawny; and for winter the brown and the tawny mingled. For, you see, camouflage has its seasons, too, marching in step with the swing of the year. Viewed close up the completed article looks to be exactly what it is—chicken wire festooned thickly with gaudy rags. But stretch a breadth of it across a dip in the earth and then fling against it a few boughs cut from trees, and at a distance of seventy-five yards no man, however keen-eyed, can say just where the authentic foliage leaves off and the artificial joins on.




For roadsides in special cases there is still another variety of camouflage, done in zebra-like strips of light and dark rags alternating, and this stuff being erected alongside the open highway is very apt indeed to deceive your hostile observer into thinking that what he beholds is merely a play of sunlight and shade upon a sloped flank of earth; and he must venture very perilously near indeed to discern that the seeming pattern of shadows really masks the movements of troops. This deceit has been described often enough, but the sheer art of it takes on added interest when one witnesses its processes and sees how marvellously its effects are brought about.

In an open field used for experimenting and testing was a dump pile dotted thickly with all the nondescript débris that accumulates upon the outer slope of a dug-in defense where soldiers have been—loose clods of earth, bits of chalky stone, shattered stumps, empty beef tins, broken mess gear, discarded boots, smashed helmets, and such like. It was crowned with a frieze of stakes projecting above the top of the trench behind it, and on its crest stood one of those shattered trees, limbless and ragged, that often are to be found upon terrains where the shelling has been brisk.

Here for our benefit a sort of game was staged. First we stationed ourselves sixty feet away from the mound. Immediately five heads appeared above the parapet—heads with shrapnel helmets upon them, and beneath the helmet rims sunburned faces peering out. The eyes looked this way and that as the heads turned from side to side.

"Please watch closely," said the camouflage officer accompanying us. "And as you watch, remember this: Two of those heads are the heads of men. The three others are dummies mounted on sticks and manipulated from below. Since you have been at the Front you know the use of the dummy—the enemy sniper shoots a hole in it and the men in the pit, by tracing the direction of the bullet through the pierced composition, are able to locate the spot where Mister Sniper is hidden. Now then, try to pick out the real heads from the fake ones."

There were three of us, and we all three of us tried. No two agreed in our guesses and not one of us scored a perfect record; and yet we stood very much nearer than any enemy marksman could ever hope to get. The lifelikeness of the thing was uncanny.

"Next take in the general layout of that spot," said the camouflage expert, with a wave of his hand toward the dump pile. "Looks natural and orthodox, doesn't it? Seems to be just the outer side of a bit of trench work, doesn't it? Well, it isn't. Two of those stakes are what they appear to be—ordinary common stakes. The other two are hollow metal tubes, inside of which trench periscopes are placed. And the tree trunk is faked, too. It is all hollow within—a shell of light tough steel with a ladder inside, and behind that twisted crotch where the limbs are broken off the observer is stationed at this moment watching us through a manufactured knothole. The only genuine thing about that tree trunk is the bark on it—we stripped that off of a beech over in the woods.

"The dump heap isn't on the level either, as you possibly know, since you may have seen such dump piles concealing the sites of observation pits up at the Front. Inside it is all dug out into galleries and on the side facing us it is full of peepholes—seventeen peepholes in all, I think there are. Let's go within fifteen feet of it and see how many of them you can detect."

At a fifteen-foot range it was hard enough for us to make out five of the seventeen peep places. Yet beforehand we understood that each tin can, each curled-up boot, each sizable tuft of withered grass, each swirl of the tree stump—masked a craftily hidden opening shielded with fine netting, through which a man crouching in safety beneath the surface of the earth might study the land in front of him. That innocent-appearing, made-to-order dump pile had the eyes of a spider; but even so, the uniformed invader might have climbed up and across it without once suspecting the truth.

For a final touch the camouflage crew put on their best stunt of all. Five men encased themselves in camouflage suits of greenish-brown canvas which covered them head, feet, body and limbs, and which being decorated with quantities of dried, grass-like stuff sewed on in patches, made them look very much as Fred Stone used to look when he played the Scarecrow Man in The Wizard of Oz years ago. Each man carried a rifle, likewise camouflaged. Then we turned our backs while they took position upon a half-bare, half-greened hillock less than a hundred feet from us.

This being done we faced about, and each knowing that five armed men were snuggled there against the bank tried to pick them out from their background. It was hard sledding, so completely had the motionless figures melted into the herbage and the chalky soil. Finally we united in the opinion that we had located three of the five. But we were wrong again. We really had picked out only one of the five. The two other suspected clumps were not men but what they seemed to be—small protrusions in the ragged and irregular turf. Yes, I am sure Mr. Belasco could have spent a fruitful half hour or so there with us.

Thanks to yet another crafty and deceitful artifice of the camouflage outfit it is possible to make the enemy think he is being attacked by raiders advancing in force when as a matter of fact what he beholds approaching him are not files of men but harmless dummies operated by a mechanism that is as simple as simplicity itself. The attack will come from elsewhere while his attention is focused upon the make-believe feint, but just at present there are military reasons why he should not know any of the particulars. It would take the edge of his surprise, even though he is not likely to live to appreciate the surprise once the trick has been pulled.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

USS Sturgeon Bay in Camouflage at Green Bay WI

USS Sturgeon Bay in dazzle camouflage
What colors were used on World War I American camouflaged ships, and in what combination? It seems we can never be certain, since apparently no color photographs were made of them. Some hand-painted models exist. There are also several hundred color lithographic plans (including one full set at the Fleet Library at the Rhode Island School of Design), but they state that the colors shown on the plans are merely placeholders and may not be the actual colors applied. There are also dozens (probably more) of artists' on-site portrayals of dazzle-painted ships, c1918-1919.

Never before have we seen a hand-tinted photographic postcard of a dazzle-painted ship, of which there are two versions (above and below on this blogpost: NH 105922-A-KN and NH 105922-KN) on the website of the Naval History and Heritage Command. These are cropped and uncropped photographs of the USS Sturgeon Bay at Green Bay WI, two postcard versions of the same view, c. 1919 .

•••

Associated Press, SCHOOL FOR CAMOUFLAGE ARTISTS AT GREAT LAKES, Janesville Daily Gazette (Janesville WI), August 26, 1918, p. 1—

Great Lakes, Ill., Aug. 26—A school of camouflage artists is the newest feature of the art officer school of the Great Lakes naval training station. The instructor is Karl O. Amend,• formerly a theatrical scenic artist in New York. Courses in the school will take 12 weeks to complete and graduates are to be given opportunities for advance rating in the service.

USS Sturgeon Bay in dazzle camouflage


From CAMOUPEDIA: A Compendium of Research on Art, Architecture and Camouflage (2009) and other sources: Karl (Otto) Amend (1885–January 2, 1944). Originally from Ohio, Amend was trained as a set designer. He designed stage sets for various Broadway plays, including Smile at Me, I Must Love Someone, and Vanities, and was founder and proprietor of Amend Scenic Studios. In 1982, an exhibition of his work, titled Behind the Scenes: The Theater Art of Karl Amend, was held at the New York Public Library.

more info

Reed College Dazzle Camouflage

Dazzle-painted USS Lake Charlotte (c1918)
Above There is an unrestored version of this public domain postcard on the website of the Naval History and Heritage Command, where it is identified as the USS Lake Charlotte or the USS Lake Silver (NH 105954). In other sources, the same ship is referred to as the War Cymbal.

•••

Anon, STUDENT ON HIGH SEAS in Morning Oregonian (Portland OR), November 30, 1917, p. 8—

In the soldiers' mail to Reed College this week is a letter from Hugh Broomfield, the last Reed man leaving for France. The letter was written from New York and says: "When this letter reaches you I will probably be out on the high seas. I am on board the steamer now and our quarters are quite comfortable. Our ship has been undergoing the 'camouflage' treatment and has been painted with blotches of blue, pink and green. It is a funny sight. I wish the scheme success and hope it deceives the 'subs'…"

The steamer on which Hugh (Dent Garvin) Broomfield crossed the Atlantic did survive that voyage. He became a member of the US Army Air Service, and was shot down in France on October 21, 1918.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Ghost Army Now in Book Form

Two years ago, Rick Beyer came out with a documentary film, titled The Ghost Army, which premiered on PBS. It provided a vivid account of a once top secret World War II American Army unit (the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, aka The Ghost Army), the mission of which was battlefield deception, using sonic and radio confusion, visual camouflage, inflatable decoys, and all sorts of persuasive phony events. The film has been a great success, and it is now being followed by the release of a richly illustrated book about the same unit. Co-authored by Beyer and Elizabeth Sayles (whose father  belonged to the unit), the book is titled The Ghost Army of World War II (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2015).

Below is one of the images from the book. It's a Christmas card that was made by one of the artists (unidentified). It makes inventive use of a cut-out silhouette technique that was first introduced by American artist Abbott H. Thayer, in advance of and during World War I. In this case, a silhouette of a soldier has been cut out of the cover, so that the background changes as the card is opened, as underscored by the punchline: "I can't conceal my wish for a Merry Christmas."



In Thayer's case, he recommended (in a 1918 article) that anyone, even a novice, could produce a functional camouflage pattern, for whatever setting, simply by superimposing a cut-out stencil silhouette on a photograph of the customary background of the subject to be camouflaged. One of his own demonstrations of that is shown below.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Painting White Horses for Camouflage During WWI

German horse-painting (c1915)
A couple of years ago, we posted a photograph of French soldiers applying dark coloring to a white horse, to make it less conspicuous. Later, we discovered other references to the same practice, as well as a wonderfully funny cartoon from Life magazine. It was also used by the American Army  (during the same time period) in its military activities on the US-Mexican border. In our earlier posts, we expressed concern about the harm that might result to the horse, since the pigment that was used was potassium permanganate (aka permanganate of potash or Condy's crystals). As we noted, "Among US soldiers during WWI, it was used twice daily as an irrigation in treating gonorrhea. Today, it is used in connection with eczema, blisters and athlete's foot—and in rocket propellent." It turns out that this horse-painting was practiced by not only the Allies but also by the Germans. There is a photograph (above) from a wartime issue of Scientific American (February 6, 1915) that shows a horse being painted by German soldiers.

Near the end of the war, it was still being practiced, as evidenced by this excerpt from an eyewitness article in the Saturday Evening Post (September 21, 1918, p. 52)—

At five a.m. we rose and went to the railway, where we saw the beloved regiment, in the midst of which we had lived so many years, entrain. Perfect order prevailed, though the embarkation took several hours. Each squadron occupied a train. Freight cars fitted up for soldiers and horses; platform cars for baggage and provisions; and at the end a car or two, second class and far from clean, for the officers, doctors, and so on. A most curious sight were the horses belonging to the regimental band. It was a tradition of the regiment that though the other soldiers were all mounted on bay horses the band should ride pure white steeds. With the new ideas of warfare these animals became a danger to their unit, and had been dyed for safety in olive brown. This was their first appearance in their disguise; and their comrades in the four squadrons did not recognize them and made a dreadful fuss, showing such desire to avoid the poor painted creatures that the latter felt insulted, and regarding themselves as victims of a ridiculous mistake they lost no opportunity of protesting. Their humiliation turned them timid and fractious, and it took time and persuasion to get them into their cars. Everyone rushed to help; and officers as well as soldiers were amused at the result of this first essay at camouflage, which came as a diversion to our strained feelings.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Ship Camoufleur Alon Bement—Again

Alon Bement, artist, teacher and camoufleur
We've featured American artist and teacher Alon Bement (shown above) at least three times in earlier blog posts. As happens with all of us, he would be all but forgotten today were it not for the fact of his influence on the painter Georgia O'Keeffe. During World War I, he also served as a civilian ship camoufleur, an experience he wrote about in newspapers and magazines. From 1920 to 1925, he was the director of the Maryland Institute College of Art (known then as the Maryland Institute School of Fine and Practical Arts). According to that school’s website, as its director—

[Alon Bement] brought a modernist sensibility to the school, introduced extension courses for high school students, and sent art education instructors to remote parts of Maryland. He made the public exhibitions hosted on campus an institutional priority including one of the first public shows of work by Henri Matisse in the United States.

In the 1930s, he became associated with the William E. Harmon Foundation and served as Director of the National Alliance of Art and Industry, during which he played a role in the production of two educational films, The Negro and Art (1933) and We Are All Artists (1936), both of which are now online.

•••

SS Aurora in a dazzle camouflage pattern (1918)




Anon, “Navy Camoufleur at Manual” in Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn NY), May 6, 1919, p. 14—

Alon Bement, a camoufleur, first class, of the United States Shipping Board, and formerly a teacher at the Teachers’ College, Columbia University, was the speaker at the Senior Assembly of the Manual Training High School yesterday. At the beginning of the war Mr. Bement, who had considerable reputation as an artist, was called to act as a naval camoufleur. He was sent to Washington DC where he worked out designs for camouflaging ships, using small models for the purpose. If the designs were found to be feasible, they were reproduced on a linen sheet, taken to a shipyard and painted on a ship.

Mr. Bement went into detail to show how portions of the ship were marked out for certain colors by means of a hand mirror when the sun was shining. The camoufleur would stand on the edge of the dry dock and reflect the light along the lines which were intended to mark the borders of the various colors. In this way the apportioning off of the ship was readily accomplished.

Mr. Bement told of other schemes which were attempted to combat the submarine menace such as the construction of an outer hull to prematurely explode the torpedo. This means was hastily abandoned because such a hull would slow down the ship to such an extent that it would fall an easy prey to the U-boats.

He also explained why only the transports, freighters and destroyers were camouflaged and not the battleships. The big fighters were not daily subject to submarine attack so that it was unnecessary to give them their “make-up” and since it costs $3,000 to paint a battleship attention was confined to the first mentioned ships.

Mr. Bement told of how in a captured German U-boat, the British found fifty-eight pages of a leaflet in the commander’s cabin, telling what methods the Prussians were taking to combat the camouflage of Allied ships. With this find, the Allied camoufleurs were able to take new steps to offset the year’s calculations of the Germans.


One of the most interesting parts of this news article is the description of the use of a hand mirror to convey to the painter—whose task it was to mark out on the actual ship the camouflage color divisions with chalk—the location of "dots" from a distance (a process that's all but identical to the use of a pouncing wheel in transferring a pattern from one surface to another). About a year ago, we posted another news account of the same technique.
 

Ann Elias on Flowers and Australian Art

Cover of Ann Elias, Useless Beauty (2015)
Art historian Ann Elias, Associate Professor of Theoretical Enquiry at the Sydney College of the Arts, The University of Sydney AU, is well-known for her writings on art and camouflage. Now she has produced a book (see cover above) about aspects of the significance of the representation of flowers in art, and especially Australian art. Titled Useless Beauty: Flowers and Australian Art (UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015), go online here to find out more. Below are two recent statements about this thoughtful, interesting book.

Professor Ted Snell, AM CitWA, Director, Cultural Precinct, University of Western Australia—

Ann Elias convincingly argues for the "useless beauty" of flowers and their significance in constructing a comprehensive and inclusive record of the art of Australia. Dancing elegantly through history to elucidate the role of flowers in imparting complex narratives of social life, celebrations, remembrance, attitudes to death, notions of gender, sexuality and cultural difference, she covers a wide territory with elegance and precision. Underlying her thesis is a deeper question about beauty and whether there is value in attending to its undoubted allure when making art, about flowers or anything else. The many illustrations prove her point.

Professor Su Baker, Director, Victorian College of the Arts (VCA), University of Melbourne—

Who would think the flower painting genre could tell such a dynamic history of western art and elucidate the contradictions, social and political conditions of Australian culture. Through this clear and very readable account of the flower painting traditions in Australia, Ann Elias reveals the way these forms of "useless beauty" give us insights into the moral and aesthetic polemics, the anxieties, desire, ambitions and aspirations of Australasian art and culture. This book takes us on a journey through the 20th century, recalling the roots of European traditions, the measures of taste and beauty that were dominant allegories for good living. Elias outlines the gendered political separation of art (useless beauty) and science, the true nature of things.  All the more surprising is that artists such as Tom Roberts, George Lambert, Hans Heysen and Arthur Streeton gave such serious attention to the motif of the flower. We hear from Elias her rich insight and the many examples of the work of these heroic Australian painters, and see the care with which they attended to these gentle subjects. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Steganography, Camouflage and Eviatar Zerubavel

Cover of Hidden in Plain Sight (2015)
Above Cover of the latest camouflage-related book, titled Hidden in Plain Sight: The Social Structure of Irrelevance, just out from Oxford University Press. It's the latest achievement by Rutgers sociologist Eviatar Zerubavel, who is well-known for his earlier books, such as The Elephant in the Room: Silence and Denial in Everyday Life (2006) and (our favorite) The Fine Line: Making Distinctions in Everyday Life (1993).

•••

In Zerubavel's insightful and wide-ranging book, among the subjects introduced is a current encryption technique known as steganography. Now practiced in its digital form, the term was originated in 1499 (so says Wikipedia) by Johannes Trithemius in Steganographia, "a treatise on cryptography and steganography, disguised as a book on magic." We ourselves first learned about it in 2006 at an international conference at the University of Northern Iowa on Camouflage: Art, Science and Popular Culture, at which digital media scholar Eugene Wallingford (UNI Computer Science Professor) offered a wonderful overview of current uses of digital steganography.

Here is an excerpt from Zerubavel's text about steganography (pp. 35-36)—

There is a particular form of background-matching camouflage known as steganography, in which actual "signals" are purposely designed to be mistaken for mere "noise" and thereby effectively ignored. One can thus send a covert message in such a way that no one apart from oneself and one's intended audience (who are in fact usually alerted to expect it) even suspects its existence. Whereas in cryptography  only the content of the hidden is concealed, in steganography, its very existence is concealed as well.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Dazzle Ship Camouflage | Stephen Hobbs



Disruptive Ship Camouflage © Stephen Hobbs (2015)
Above We've featured the camouflage-related work of South African artist Stephen Hobbs in earlier blog posts, including his experiments with building camouflage and a dazzle-patterned pop-up book. His latest artwork (as shown above) will soon premiere in a series of installation / performances called Stephen Hobbs: SAS Somerset & Other War Stories, on Thursday, April 2, 2015, from 5 to 9 pm, at Twenty Fifty, First Floor, 8 Spin Street, in Cape Town.

The SAS Somerset is an actual historical South African ship, and the world's last remaining boom defense vessel. Hobb's installation will feature "a unique and dynamic use of dazzle patterning and lighting onto a mock assemblage of the SAS Somerset; a spectacle conceived to enliven and transform the perception of the vessel's significance in location and history." Produced by Stephen Hobbs, in collaboration with David Krut Projects.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Abbott Thayer and Background-Picturing

Background-picturing experiment with G.H. Thayer painting
Above Roy R. Behrens (©2015), an experiment using Adobe Photoshop software in an attempt to replicate a camouflage effect that artist/naturalists Abbott Handerson Thayer and Gerald Handerson Thayer (father and son) referred to as background picturing. The initial illustration (top left) is a watercolor painting by Gerald Thayer that was originally reproduced in Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom (1909). The actual painting is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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The following is an excerpt (in reference to the image above) from an as-yet unpublished essay by Roy R. Behrens, titled "Seeing Through Camouflage: Abbott Thayer, Background-Picturing and the Use of Cut-Out Silhouettes" (©2015)—

Years ago, I published an article in which I suggested that Abbott Thayer had anticipated a computer-based method of working on multiple solutions to the same art or design composition, by which we use the SaveAs command on computers.• In drafting this article, it occurred to me that he may also have anticipated another digital practice, as suggested by background-picturing. This can best be understood by looking at a series of illustrations.

The first of these illustrations is an unaltered reproduction of a watercolor painting by Gerald Thayer, titled Male Ruffed Grouse in Forest [top left]. First published in full-color in in 1909 in Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom, it is a masterful demonstration of the intricacies of background-picturing, or (figuratively speaking) of “seeing through” an animal as if it were transparent. In the next two illustrations, the woodland setting [top right] and the bird [bottom left] have been selected and removed, using Adobe Photoshop. In the final stage [bottom right], I have instructed the software to fill the empty silhouette of the bird, using a setting of ContentAware, based on information in the shapes and colors in the background. The result is surely successful, albeit less than equivalent to what the Thayers intended, since the source of this solution is a single particular background and not, as they hypothesized, an average of “innumerable landscapes.”


• See R.R. Behrens, “Abbott H. Thayer’s anticipation of a computer-based method of working” in Leonardo. Vol 34 No 1 (2001), pp. 19-20. Available online here. See also www.AbbottThayer.com and "Abbott H. Thayer's Vanishing Ducks."

Thursday, March 12, 2015

New Book on Camouflage Cultures | 2015

Cover of Camouflage Cultures (2015), available now
The latest book on art and camouflage is an anthology of the papers that were featured at an International Camouflage Conference at the Sydney College of the Arts, the University of Sydney AU in August 2013. Titled Camouflage Cultures: Beyond the Art of Disappearance, its editors are Ann Elias, Ross Harley and Nicholas Tsoutas. Included are writings that touch on such diverse fields as art history and theory, studio art, biology, cultural theory, literature, and philosophy.

The book will be available in late April 2015 from the Sydney University Press (ISBN 9781743324257) . Among its contributors are Roy R. Behrens, Donna West Brett, Paul Brock, Ann Elias, Ross Gibson, Amy Hamilton, Pamela Hansford, Jack Hasenpusch, Ian Howard, Husuan L. Hsu, Bernd Hüppauf, Ian McLean, Jacqueline Millner, Jonnie Morris, Brigitta Olubas, Nikos Papastergiadis, Tanya Peterson, Nicholas Tsoutas, Linda Tyler and Ben Wadham.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Futurist Togs For Sniper Camouflage (1917)

US proposal for disruptively-patterned sniper suit (1917)
Above This photograph of an American soldier dressed in a disruptively patterned sniper outfit (this is a detail of a larger scene) was one of a series of official government photos that were provided to US news agencies in 1917-18. It was subsequently published in various newspapers and magazines throughout the country, including, for example, in a feature titled CAMOUFLAGE DEVICES FOR DECEIVING ENEMY in the Washington Times, January 5, 1918, p. 4.

Later, as shown below in this post, the same figure was one of several components in a photomontage that appeared on the cover of a French magazine, Lectures Pour Tout, on May 1, 1918.

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Anon, FUTURIST TOGS FOR SNIPERS in Chicago Daily Tribune, July 24, 1918, p. 6—

Artists of the [Blackhawk] division [at Camp Grant IL] camouflage department today gave free rein to their imagination and color fancies when Lieutenant Roy Shinew, whose studio at 3714 West Grand Avenue was closed when he entered the service, began experimenting on a series of sniper uniforms.

Types of uniforms so far turned out by the class resemble nothing more than futurist paintings of a nude falling down stairs. They are streaked with paint in broken lines and seem a joke until fitted to the body of a man and seen from a short distance in the open.

Cover of Lectures Pour Tous (1918)

Friday, January 16, 2015

Hunters Masquerade as Cow (1578)

US Patent No. 586,145 (1897)
Above Patent drawings for US Patent No. 586,145, titled "Hunting Decoy," as devised by J. Sievers, Jr. (1897). Not a bad idea, but apparently nothing new. As evidenced by two 1578 Dutch engravings by Philips Galle (shown below on this page), as early as the 16th century European deer hunters were camouflaging themselves by masquerading as cows. In both prints, notice the telltale human feet apparent beneath the cow costumes. Both prints (out of rights and in public domain) are in the collection of the Rijksmuseum.

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Anon, from the Humeston New Era (Humeston IA), Wednesday, December 21, 1921—

How to stop certain Iowa druggists from making bootleg whisky under the camouflage of cologne and similar euphonious preparations is the problem which Prohibition Enforcement Officer Bronson finds himself up against. Some druggists are getting alcohol ostensibly for legitimate purposes and converting it into bootleg whisky, Mr. Bronson told Commissioner Haynes, and it is difficult to detect them. Before departing for Iowa from Washington he urged the commissioner to allow him six more field men and two officers who are druggists. Indications are the added force will be granted.

Engravings by Philips Galle (1578)

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Joseph Harker | Dracula Meets Camouflage

Portrait of Joseph Harker (n.d.)
In the San Francisco Chronicle, on Sunday, May 11, 1919, a full-page article appeared on various aspects of wartime camouflage. Titled TROOPSHIPS DAZZLE-PAINTED SO COMMANDERS OF U-BOATS CAN NOT TELL WHETHER THEY WERE COMING OR GOING, it was written by Burleigh Rushwood. Here's a brief excerpt (p. 10)—

[During World War I] One of the strokes of genius on the part of an [French] administrative department…was the selection of a famous scene painter for the work [of camouflage]. This was [Louis] Bérard, who painted the famous scene of the farmyard for [Edmond] Rostand's great sensational play Chantecler. Bérard put up all sorts of queer devices for the misleading of enemy observers. He created fake lakes where there was no water and he was the originator of the bright idea of designs for gun emplacements that changed color as the seasons of the year changed. The success of Bérard led the British Government to call in famous London scene painters like Joseph Harker, and at one time the scene decks in the great spaces of Drury Lane Theatre were filled with canvases in the course of preparation for the front.

We have easily determined that the French stage designer was Louis Bérard, perhaps best known as "le decorateur de Chantecler," a wonderfully zany satirical play by Edmund Rostand, in which all the actors were dressed in animal costumes (below, see program cover of the NYC production of the same play, starring Maude Adams •). In Cécile Coutin's Tromper l'ennemi (2012) Bérard is described as an accessoiriste de théatre (property man) who served in the Section de Camouflage (1914-15) as a camouflage instructor at the studio at Amiens. She includes a three-page section on "Louis Bérard and His Contribution to the Invention of Camouflage" (pp. 48-51). Regrettably, the text is completely and only in French.

Nor did it require much effort to find out more (if not very much) about Joseph Cunningham Harker (1855-1927), who was a well-known scenographer in the London theatre. Above is a painting of him, possibly a self-portrait. He was one of a long line of Harkers who were prominent in the theatre, including his actor father, William Pierpont Harker, and his own son, the character actor Gordon Harker. Today, two of Joseph Harker's great-great-granddaughters, Susannah Harker and Caroline Harker, are accomplished British actresses. During his lifetime, Harker was a scene painter for the Lyceum Theatre, which was managed by Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula. In that book, one of the leading characters (called Jonathan Harker) is named after Stoker's friend.

• Views of the NYC production of Chantecler (with sets most likely not designed by Bérard) are available here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

More A.E. Hayward Camouflage Cartoons

A.E. Hayward, September 27, 1917, p. 22
In an earlier post, we talked about American cartoonist  A.E. (Alfred Earl) Hayward (1884-1939), and reproduced one of his "camouflage cartoons" that appeared in 1917 in his daily series “The Padded Cell,” in the Philadelphia Public Ledger. Here (above and below) are more from that same series (restored and modified somewhat) from other issues of the same newspaper.

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Anon, BOOZE CAMOUFLAGED BY BREAD in The Brockport Republic (Brockport NY), February 21, 1918, p. 7—

The vigilance of a local post office clerk deprived a Camp Funston infantryman of two pints of whiskey and revealed a novel method transmitting through the mails. A compact package handled by a clerk, who noted it was damp. He opened the package and discovered two loaves of bread. A closer examination disclosed the inside of each loaf had been removed and a pint of whiskey inserted.

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Anon, The Plattsburgh Sentinel (Plattsburgh NY), Julu 1, 1921, p. 4—

Two loads of Canadian whiskey were captured in the vicinity of Malone during the past week. One car was cleverly camouflaged and booze skillfully hidden in the rear.

A.E. Hayward, October 5, 1917
Anon, INNOCENT LOOKING CADILLAC HAD 18 CASES OF WET GOODS in Essex County Republican (Keeseville NY), October 27, 1922, p. 1—

A neatly camouflaged booze car was captured [by police] near Keeseville. The troppers found that so far as appearances went there was nothing contraband in the car. An examination proved, however, that there were enough false compartments in the Cadillac 1922 touring car to conceal eighteen cases of Scotch and Canadian rye whiskey.


A.E. Hayward, September 18, 1917, p 18


A.E. Hayward, October 2, 1917, p 20
A.E. Hayward, October 3, 1917, p 22
A.E. Hayward, September 18, 1917
A.E. Hayward, September 28, 1917, p. 22

Monday, December 22, 2014

Trojan Horse Camouflage | Shakespeare Too

Sheboygan Press, January 1, 1918, artist unknown
Above A cartoon illustration on the historic antecedents of World War I camouflage as published in the Sheboygan Press (Sheboygan WI), January 7, 1918, p. 8. The artist's signature, at bottom right, is unreadable. Image restored and adjusted.

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Theodor Reik—

Where would a clever man hide a particular leaf? In the forest.

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Colin Watson—

A needle is much simpler to find in a haystack than in a bin of other needles.

William Jennings Bryan's Camouflage 1918

William Jennings Bryan (1908)
Above William Jennings Bryan during 1908 presidential campaign.

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 (Anon, CAMOUFLAGE BY MRS. [WILLIAM JENNINGS] BRYAN: There's A Reason for His Long Locks, Says Former Secretary in Washington Post, March 1, 1918—

Syracuse NY, February 28—Camouflage was invented by Mrs. William J. Bryan way back in 1882 to hide—oh, well, read Mr. Bryan's own explanation, given for the first time today, as to why he maintains the famous flowing locks of hair that tickle his collar:

"It's my wife's idea," he smiled. "The Lord made me for utility rather than for beauty. He gave me ears that stick out a great deal more than artistic standards require.

I had my hair cropped away back in 1882 when I was engaged to my wife and the result was terrible. I nearly lost her. She has made me wear my hair long ever since. It is what I call justifiable camouflage."

Bryan Dollar (1896)



• Re Bryan Dollar, acccording to Wikipedia, "Democratic and Populist presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan proposed free silver, that is, if you presented silver at the mint, you'd get it back, stamped into silver dollars. At the time, the worth of the metal in a silver dollar was 47 cents, so obviously people would want to do this and it would be inflationary. This piece demonstrates the argument against free silver, championed by Republican candidate William McKinley."

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A.E Hayward's Camouflage Cartoons

Above Cartoon by A.E. (Alfred Earl) Hayward (1884-1939), from his daily series “The Padded Cell,” in the Philadelphia Public Ledger on October 4, 1917, p. 22. In addition to this series, Hayward also originated "Pinheads” and “Somebody’s Stenog," a strip about a stenographer named Cam O’Flage.

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Anon, CAMOUFLAGE BATHING SUIT CAUSES SENSATION, in Boston Sunday Globe, August 24, 1919, p. 47—

Old Orchard Beach, August 23—This week the town has been filled to its capacity. No such summer business was ever seen here before. There were more automobiles at Old Orchard Sunday afternoon than ever before in a single day, according to the traffic officers.

A camouflage bathing suit was seen here for the first time this week. It was worn by a tall, slim beauty, who attracted more attention than a flock of seaplanes. As she sauntered down the beach she resembled a crazy patchwork quilt. Beach loungers thought she was wrapped in a silk bed covering. She presented a wonderfully attractive picture, however, as she trotted down to the water and plunged into the surf.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What Is Camouflage? | René Bache

René Bache, "What Is 'Camouflage'?" (1918)
Above Full-page newspaper article titled “What Is Camouflage?” by René Bache, in The Daily Ardmoreite (Ardmore OK), March 6, 1918, p. 6. Born in Philadelphia, Bache (1861-1933) was a journalist and author who wrote for Scientific American and other periodicals. He was also the Great-Great-Great-Great Grandson of Benjamin Franklin.

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An excerpt pertaining to ship camouflage from the same article—

Up to now the warpaint of fighting ships has been slate gray, which was supposed to harmonize with the sea, but henceforth (though the problem has not been worked out satisfactorily yet) they will be "camouflaged" in schemes of colors. In the American navy this idea is being tried out on destroyers; and not long ago one of Uncle Sam's submarines, while taking part in maneuvers, actually got lost from the fleet because (being adorned in this way) the other ships lost sight of it.

The United States government now requires that all of its merchant ships shall be similarly treated, information for the purpose being furnished to owners and ship masters by the Bureau of War Risk Insurance. They are at liberty to choose their own painting scheme from several "recipes" supplied. Of these the simplest consists in painting the vessel in such a way as to eliminate highlights and shadows [called countershading]. The under part of the "overhang" Is made white, and the super structure dark, the result being a blend with sea and sky.

Other schemes consist in arrangements of the primary colors In various patterns, the effect sought being a blend that will produce visually the impression of gray. But this gray has to the eye much more "deadness" than gray paint. It is misty. Optically speaking, the same principle applies as in the case of the zebra, whose black and white stripes, vivid enough when seen close at hand, are meant by nature as a protective coloration—in other words, to make tho animal less visible. Seen from a distance on its native desert, its stripes blend into a gray that is much less conspicuous than a mule's "all-over" gray.

One of these arrangements is of wavy stripes, green, blue and white. Stripes of curvilinear and scroll forms, it is found, have a confusing effect to the eye, the outlines of a hull thus adorned being lost to view at any considerable distance. Incidentally they make difficult the focusing of a telescope or binocular upon the ship, rendering it harder to see the craft distinctly.

Some of those schemes, curiously enough, seem to split up the ship's hull and superstructure into several parts, visually, with an appearance as if sea and sky showed between. The whole puzzle is very difficult to analyze, but when it has been thoroughly worked out, and its elements reduced to a scientific basis, it may be possible to make a vessel actually invisible at a distance of a mile.

Meanwhile, and for present purposes, the object sought is to render ships less easy to see. The sea is blue. The sea is green. The sea is mottled gray. Its color depends upon that of the day, which it reflects. Take a bucketful of water from the ocean, and it has no color. In reality the sea has no color of its own. How, then, shall it be successfully imitated?

One expert [William Andrew Mackay], who has made long study of the subject, declares that the color effect of the sea is a mixture of violet and green. If, therefore, a ship be painted with these two colors in a suitable pattern (stripes wavy or in scrolls), it will be made relatively invisible, because at a distance the light rays will mingle and so affect the optic nerve as to produce a color impression like that of the sea.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

David Bower | Camouflaged Room Interiors

All images © David Bower
We've known about and admired the three-dimensional "camouflaged rooms" of Chicago-area artist David Bower (1936-) for decades, as early as 1980 for sure. One of our favorites is pictured above.

Described by Bower as sculptural "shelf environments," this particular one, titled Sheep Have No Fear Because of Their Whiteness (1980), measures 33 in wide x 11 in high x 7 in deep, and was made with acrylic on wood. Other works of his from this series are shown below, courtesy the artist.

 David Bower, Camouflage Chicago (1977), 24 x 10 x 7, acrylic on wood.

David Bower, Room at Troggerstraus (1977), 24 x 10 x 7, acrylic on wood.

David Bower, Room for Sigmund (1977), 24 x 10 x 7, acrylic on wood.

David Bower, Like a Red Brick Room (1977), 24 x 10 x 7, acrylic on wood.

David Bower, Room for Rollo (1977), 24 x 10 x 7, acrylic on wood.

David Bower, Room at Bebelstrasse (1977), 24 x 10 x 7, acrylic on wood.

For more on American artist David Bower (Emeritus Professor of Art at Northern Illinois University) and his camouflaged room series, see Chapter Eight in False Colors: Art, Design and Modern Camouflage (2002).