Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Mirrored Camouflage Listening Posts in WWI

An apparent problem during World War I was that of trying to conceal an eavesdropper within hearing distance of the enemy's position. As we've shown in earlier posts, this was sometimes accomplished by constructing (probably using pâpier maché) the convincing likeness of a rotting horse carcass. Hollowed out and equipped with various peepholes, it was of sufficient size that a soldier could secretly listen during daylight, then return to his unit in darkness.

It is impossible to know how often (if at all) "ye olde dead horse deception" was actually used on the battlefield. The only photographs we've seen were made as demonstrations at camouflage training camps, and distributed to various American news services, for amusing wartime anecdotes. If the method were actually being used on the battlefield, it wouldn't make sense to broadcast it to the enemy.

Other devices were also employed, or at least they were tested at camouflage training camps. Reproduced above, for example, is a US Army photograph of three soldiers who were testing a curious listening device that consists of a mirrored sheet mounted on a wooden frame (slightly tilted forward). The irregularly-shaped edge is an attempt to make it fit in better with the natural surrounding. Because the facing panel is mirrored, an observer from the front would see a reflected image of the terrain, but not the soldier behind it. It may seem clever, but it can't have been very effective. In this photograph, the three soldiers are positioned so closely together that their own bodies would be visible in the mirror of the person behind them.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) online documentation of this (NARA A339 and A341) includes a second photograph (as in before-and-after views). In that photograph (shown below), we see the enemy's point of view (more or less) and—voila!—there is not a trace of the hidden listeners (well, almost).



This idea was not unprecedented at the time of WWI, and it has often resurfaced in the past one hundred years or so. As one of many examples, reproduced below is a patent drawing for a "Reflective Hunting Blind," invented c2008 by Kevin Pottmeyer and Chester Burdette and registered as US Patent 8579007 B2.


It consists of four hinged panels, irregularly shaped along the top edge, with peepholes through which a hunter can look. The inner surface is covered with a disruptive camouflage pattern, while the side that faces out (as shown here) is a reflective mirror surface (slightly tilted forward). As a result, the inventors explain—

A game animal looking into the front of the blind from a distance therefore sees only a reflection of the terrain surrounding the blind, thereby making the blind substantially indiscernible from the surrounding terrain and effectively obscuring a hunter…

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

WWI Camouflaged Observation Car

Above Camouflaged World War I US Army staff observation car (c1918). Based on an Ordnance Department photograph now in the collection of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). 165-WW-296A-019. Extracted from original black and white photograph and digitally colorized.

•••

Anon, ‘Soul Study’ Photos for Ugly Folk: Camera Decreases Years and Removes Double Chins for Patrons (reprinted from the New York Sun) in Abel’s Photographic Weekly. Vol 30 No 774, October 21, 1922, pp. 460-462.

I’m satisfied with photography that shows people as they are. I think that’s what it’s for. I never could see that it was any compliment to a photograph to say that it looked like an oil painting.

It isn’t a photograph’s business to be like an oil painting, and a thing that imitates something else is just a joke, with no sincerity or usefulness in it. All that foggy, smokey, posey camouflage that they’ve dragged into photography to make it look like art doesn’t make any impression on me at all. I want a picture of myself as I am or none at all, but if you want one that makes you look like a dying duck in a thunderstorm you’d better go and get it without consulting me. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Dazzle-Camouflaged Beverage Can

Above Des Moines-based graphic designer Kenny Miesner (former student of whom we have warm memories) shared with us this image and link to Focus Lab studio's concept (not actually used by the client) of a dazzle-camouflaged beer can. It reminded us of a reviewer's comment when the Chelsea Arts Club Dazzle Ball was held in London in 1919. The writer cautioned that the dazzle-patterned costumes might cause the dancers to collide. No doubt a couple of beers would help.