Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Jonnie Morris Film on Dazzle Camouflage

Jonnie Morris | Dazzle Camouflage Documentary

Above I've known about this documentary film project since the fall of 2011, when I was interviewed for it. But until today I hadn't realized that this "trailer" is available online at Vimeo. I'm not sure when the film is coming out, but it promises to be one of the richest, most comprehensive documentaries on the subject, and especially on high difference disruption, sometimes known as dazzle camouflage or (more fashionably now) razzle dazzle. As nearly everyone knows by now, it came into widespread use during World War I, initially as a means of throwing off the calculations of German U-boat torpedo gunners.

Spurious claims on websites state that it didn't actually work, but scientific testing at MIT (c1919) confirmed that it did (more about that in a forthcoming post). It is also commonly said that, with the introduction of radar, the practice died out during World War II. But that doesn't seem to be the case, and indeed, on the basis of contemporaneous photographs, some of the most puzzling dazzle designs were produced during WWII, by both sides of the conflict.

This photograph (from WWI) was first published in a magazine article by American artist (and a prominent US Navy camoufleur during both wars) Everett L. Warner. It shows the dazzle-painted SS Congaree (the photo is dated December 9, 1918), looking like a conglomerate of pyramids. This, like many of the best dazzle plans from that time period, was devised by marine artist (and camoufleur) Frederick Judd Waugh. If this photograph looks retouched, it's because it is. It was scanned from a black-and-white lantern slide in Warner's collection (following WWII, he gave slide talks on the subject), on which he had attempted to add translucent color tinting (not very successfully). It has always reminded me of the stage sets from the German silent horror film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), which it predates by a couple of years.

Filmmaker Jonnie Morris will be among the speakers (along with Ann Elias, myself and others) at the Sydney College of the Arts (August 8 through August 11, 2013) at an international conference called Camouflage Cultures: Surveillance, Communities, Aesthetics, Animals.