Thursday, January 12, 2017

US Camouflage Artists Preparing Ships for Testing

US Ship Camouflage Artists (1918) [colorized]
Above Our unfinished colorization of a World War I US Navy photograph, an original of which is in the collection of the National Archives and Record Service (No 165-WW-70C-001). It is described as having been received from the Navy Department, Bureau of Construction and Repair, on July 12, 1918, but there is no indication of when it was actually taken.

In this photograph, four ship camouflage artists are applying dazzle camouflage schemes to various sizes and types of wooden ship models. When completed, the models were stored on the shelves on the back wall. We now know the identities of these four artists, all of whom had been career artists in civilian life. They are (left to right) John Gregory, Gordon Stevenson, Frederick Judd Waugh, and Manley Kercheval Nash.


Haldane Macfall [reviewing a London exhibition of paintings by John Everett of WWI camouflaged ships], "The Dazzle-Painter" in Land and Water (February 6, 1919), p. 31—

Now, whilst the guns, for instance, on land were best fogged from observation by camouflage, this problem was not quite so easy for the sea-folk. The sea-gong camouflage artist had to wash out all land laws and discover the whole business anew. First of all, the main object of true camouflage, invisibility, had to go by the board. The light made invisibility pretty questionable: a light sky behind any ship converts it into a solid silhouette. The painter soon found this out; but his endeavor discovered to him a fact almost as important, and on that fact the camouflaging of ships was largely developed. Nothing could reveal this to the landsman better than the art of John Everett in these paintings, in which he has displayed the beauty that camouflage wrought upon modern shipping in an age that we are wont to look upon as lacking in color and romance. The fact may perhaps be most simply stated somewhat thus: The painting of a ship upon the sea in stripes, or violently contrasted masses employed by skill, curiously enough makes it prodigiously difficult to make out her movement and intention of movement, to make out exactly how she is steering. As Lieutenant [Jan] Gordon neatly puts it, "Dazzle-painting attains its object, not by eluding the submarine by invisibility, but by confusing his judgment." It perplexes the submarine as to the ship's course, its range, and its size. Everett has deliberately treated these dazzle-painted ships with realism and set down his impressions without qualification; and the result is a convincingness that is untainted by any suggestion of trickery or special pleading.


Below Following completion of the dazzle painted ship models, each was carefully tested in an observation theatre, which simulated its appearance through a periscope at sea against different backgrounds, varied lighting , and in various weather conditions). Shown here are two camouflage artists from the same Navy unit, in the process of testing the models. The person at the periscope is architect Harold Van Buskirk, executive officer in charge of the two camouflage subsections (the one shown here was in Washington DC; the other at Eastman Laboratories in Rochester NY). Standing beside him is Kenneth MacIntire, an artist who headed the workshop in which the wooden models were made.

Ship Model Testing Theatre (1918) [colorized]
For more information on American and British WWI ship camouflage (both detailed text and images), see James Taylor's recent book on DAZZLE: Disguise and Disruption in War and Art (2016).