Saturday, March 3, 2018

Camouflage Artists | The Kearton Brothers

The Keartons' stuffed cow decoy
One of our favorite websites, hands down, is that of The Public Domain Review. Once there, perhaps our favorite essay (and one that's especially pertinent to our camouflage blog) is John Bevis' account of two turn-of-the-century wildlife photographers, the Kearton brothers. Titled Stuffed Ox, Dummy Tree, Artificial Rock: Deception the Work of Richard and Cherry Kearton, the essay describes and illustrates the ingenious attempts of these British pranksters to cleverly conceal themselves, in order to take candid photographs of animals in their natural habitat. They then published the results in several books (all of which are in public domain and available online). Bevis (author of the essay) has himself published a book about these phenomenal, pioneering naturalists, titled The Keartons: Inventing Nature Photography (Uniformbooks, 2016).

Above are two of their photographs, showing two views of one of their inventions, a stuffed ox, (in Bevis' words)—

a hide realistically shaped over a padded frame, whose interior was just sufficiently capacious for both camera, mounted in the brisket and focusing through a hole in the hide, and photographer, bent into an excruciatingly uncomfortable posture…The stuffed ox enjoyed a brilliant but brief working life, being retired damaged at the end of the 1900 season after being blown over with Cherry [Kearton] inside.

But there's more—much more—such as a stuffed sheep, a large artificial rock, a spurious hollow tree trunk, a mask that shields the photographer's face, and a phony rubbish heap. Anyone familiar with various wartime camouflage tricks (see for example the decoy papier maché cow below, held aloft by World War I French camoufleurs), said to have originated with artists, will recognize that the Keartons' inventions anticipate those by at least a decade.

French camoufleurs with cow decoy