Sunday, April 25, 2010

Futurist Shipping

Above World War I-era photograph of a dazzle-painted ship. Public domain photo. The name of the ship is uncertain, but, based on other dazzle plans, it is most likely an American ship, wearing camouflage developed by a team of US Navy artists in Washington DC, headed by Everett L. Warner. At around the same time, the following short article, titled "Our Futurist Shipping," was published in The Independent (February 23, 1918), pp. 305-306—

If some ancient mariner were to return to one of our eastern ports these days he would think the shipping world had gone mad. The submarine has called forth the camouflage artist, and the camouflage artist has painted our transatlantic vessels with bizarre designs in all colors of the rainbow. Imaginative writers used to dwell on the kaleidoscope of shipping in great harbors like New York. The term is thereby applicable today, for our harbors are as colorful as operatic pageants. Half of some great ship will be painted a delicate baby blue and the other half will be an arrangement in great circles and stripes and bands in black, green, yellow and pink. Another vessel will appear dressed in a succession of waving colors ranging from pink to purple. A steamship no longer resembles a steamship. It looks like a futurist nightmare.

Thee are two rival schools of marine camouflage. One works on the theory of low visibility and the other one strives for what is called the dazzle effect. The low visibility camoufleurs painted the ships in waving lines with the basic light-ray tones—reds and greens and violets—with the idea of having the vessels merge with the atmosphere and disappear. The dazzle school goes in for a system of marvelous designs and colors calculated to confuse the aim of enemy gunners. Even our battleships have succumbed to the lure of strange pigmentation. The sober "fighting gray" battleship color is a thing of the past. Our fighting craft go to their grim business in the war zone made up like a Russian ballet.