Saturday, December 17, 2011

Australian Decoy Cow

Papier mache decoy cow (1944)

For more about this decoy papier mache milk cow, devised by World War II Australian camouflage artists, click here

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

San Quentin Prison Camouflage

Inmates in striped prison suits (not at San Quentin)

From Dean Jennings, "Inside San Quentin Prison: Factory for Forgotten Men" in The Rotarian (August 1948), p. 16—

"When [US] Army officers were searching for camouflage artists [during World War II], they came to San Quentin [State Prison in California] on a routine visit. Strolling around the prison hospital, the administration headquarters, and other buildings on the huge reservation, they noticed hundreds of beautiful murals on the walls. There were paintings of all the great railroad trains in history; there were life-size works illustrating Bible stories. There were ships, planes, landscapes, buildings—covering every available inch of bare wall space.

'That's wonderful stuff!' one of the officers exclaimed. 'How big is your staff of artists?'

[Warden Clifton] Duffy grinned. 'I haven't any staff. Every one of those murals was done by one man. He wanted to give this place some beauty, even though he knew he could never take his work off the walls.'

The officer nodded thoughtfully. 'We need men with that kind of guts,' he said. 'We'll take him.'

So Roy Colyar, a great artist behind walls, went over to an Army post on special parole, using his brush for camouflage work—so that other men might live. Colyar is still in the service, and his fine record has earned him a full parole effective this year."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hugh B. Cott | Zoologist and Camoufleur

from Hugh B. Cott, Adaptive Coloration in Animals (1940)

Reproduced above is one of my favorite drawings from what is one of my favorite books. It is a cluster of drawings of the "hind limbs of the Common Frog (Rana temporaria), showing coincident disruptive pattern[s]." They are one of about 150 illustrations of natural camouflage in Hugh B. Cott's well-known classic book about that fascinating subject, titled Adaptive Coloration in Animals (London: Methuen, 1940). What makes these drawings (and the book itself) even more interesting is that Cott (1900-1987) was not just a zoologist—he was a highly skilled scientific illustrator (these are his own pen-and-ink drawings), a wildlife photographer, and a prominent British camoufleur in World War II.

In these drawings, he is trying to show how disruptive patterns in animal forms combine with continuous patterns to produce an effect that Cott referred to as coincident disruption. As he so aptly explained it, disruptive patterns work "by the optical destruction of what is present," while continuous patterns work "by the optical construction of what is not present." He then concludes that "while disruptive patterns appear to break up what is really a continuous surface, coincident patterns seem to unite what are actually discontinuous surfaces" (p. 70).

This same illustration was also recently reproduced in the new book by art historian Ann Elias, Camouflage Australia (Sydney University Press, 2011). Having followed her research in recent years, I was delighted to be asked to write a preface for the book, which is an admirable achievement in interdisciplinary research. In the preface, I could not resist the temptation to compare Elias' own efforts to Cott's drawing of the frogs' hind limbs. The author, I said, "has folded up a lengthy limb of scholarly tradition (made up of sacrosanct disciplines like aesthetics, zoology, anthropology and sociology), in order to reveal new zones that are cross-disciplinary" (p. viii).

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Camouflage as Hide and Seek

WWI disguises: one thing looks like something else

From Reginald John Farrer, The Void of War. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1918, pp. 67-68—

"In certain aspects the war [World War I] is nothing but a glorious, gigantic game of hide and seek—camouflage is nothing else. It is not only the art of making things invisible, but also of making them look like something else. Even the art of inconspicuousness is subtle and exciting. What glory it must be to splash your tents and lorries all over with wide waggles of orange and emerald and ochre and umber, in a drunken chaos, until you have produced a perfect futurist masterpiece which one would thin would pierce the very vaults of heaven with its yells. However, as pandemonium produces numbness in the ear, so I suppose a Lost-Dogs'-Home-at-Battersea in chromatics does deaden visibility in a dun-colored ensemble.

But disguise is an even higher branch of the art: you go on to make everything else look like something else. Hermit crabs and caddis worms become our masters. Down from the sky peers the microscopic midget of a Boche plane: he sees a tree—but it may be gun: he sees a gun—but it may be only a tree. And so the game of hide and seek goes on, in a steady acceleration of ingenuity on both sides, till at last the only logical outcome will be to have no camouflage at all. You will simply put out your guns fair and square in the open, because nobody will ever believe, by that time, that anything really is what it looks like.

As far as guns go, the war is developing into a colossal fancy dress ball, with immunity for the prize: wolves in sheeps' clothing are nothing to these shepherdesses of the countryside. The more important they are, the more meekly do they shrink from under dominoes of boughs or sods, or strawberry netting tagged over with fluffets of green and brown rags. And sometimes they lurk under some undiscoverable knoll in a coppice, and do their barking through a little hole from which you would only expect rabbits, not shells. It must be the most endless joy to go on planning these disguises. One would lie awake at night wondering to make ones gun look like a dog kennel, or a dog kennel conceal a gun. But, of course, the individual camouflage is even more exciting yet."

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Building Camouflage

News photo of a British hospital in disruptive camouflage (c1918)
From American Architect and Architecture Vol 17 (1920), p. 704—

"Now that the war is over the camouflage artist may be seeking occupation, and the Architects' Journal of London has facetiously throught of a manner in which his talents might be used for the general good. We are surrounded by many buildings which cause us daily pain, but which serve some utilitarian purpose. Why should not the camouflage artist so decorate the fronts of these buildings as to make them absolutely invisible from the street? It might excite wonder to see some hundreds of people passing into a building which apparently consisted of one floor only, but this would not matter. We should only consider that there were more marvels than had been dreamed of in our philosophy, while local authorities would have to determine what new buildings should be allowed to be visible."

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

WWI Camouflaged Pissoir

World War I (August 1917), a camouflaged pissoir

Color photography was invented prior to 1914, but it wasn't widely used during World War I. I don't think I've ever seen a color photograph of a dazzle-camouflaged ship from that era.  There are of course paintings of a some of those ships, hand-painted wooden models, and tinted black and white photographs. There's even colorized film footage. Recently I ran across a website (there are other sites as well) that features color photographs from the war. The one shown here for example shows a French soldier at a camouflaged field pissoir.