Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ann Elias on Max Dupain

Max Dupain (1911-1992) was a Modern-era Australian photographer who—along with zoologist William Dakin and other scientists, artists and designers—formed the Sydney Camouflage Group in 1939. During World War II, while attached to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), he made contributions to aerial photography and photo-analysis. Dupain's involvement in camouflage, in relation to his other work, is discussed in considerable detail in Ann Elias, "Camouflage and the Half-Hidden History of Max Dupain in War" in History of Photography Vol 13 No 4 (November 2009), pp. 370-382. Here are two brief excerpts—

Of all these approaches and styles [in Dupain's pre-war photography] it was surrealism that was closest to a camouflage way of thinking. Surrealist techniques such as simulation to mimic reality, dissimulation to decompose reality and metamorphosis to transform reality were all designed to put the viewer's certainty of sight and powers of reasoning into question. They are also basic techniques of military camouflage where the objective is to use visual surprise and disorientation for military gain. Like surrealist art, camouflage is designed to unsettle the senses and subvert the hegemony of vision. (p. 373)

After the war he [Dupain] said that he did not want to return to the "cosmetic lie" of fashion photography. But it was probably also the case that his deep involvement and later dissatisfaction with military camouflage, a practice that has been characterized as the cosmetic lie of warfare, contributed to this desire for clarity and honesty. The whole purpose of camouflage is to confuse and negate optical clarity and its objective is to trick, deceive, keep secret, dazzle, to hide weakness and conceal strength. One translation of the French term camouflage is the act of putting on make-up for theatre. (p. 378)