Showing posts with label disguise. Show all posts
Showing posts with label disguise. Show all posts

Thursday, June 12, 2014


R.W. Eddy (1919)
Above Cartoon by R.W. Eddy from Cartoon Magazine (1919).


Anon, "CAMERA GUN" IN FANTASTIC US SHOOTING CASE in Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, New South Wales), January 2, 1947, p. 3 [adapted]—

New York, January 1—New Year's Eve crowds, hurrying homeward, were spectators of a crime as fantastic as any mystery thriller when a woman pointed what she thought was a camouflaged camera at another women waiting for an underground train in Times Square.

When she pulled the "release" a sawed-off shotgun concealed inside went off, blasting Mrs. [Nancy Smith], age 28. With her left thigh shredded by pellets, Mrs. [Smith] fell screaming, while hundreds of startled spectators scattered and ran in all directions.

The police grabbed Miss [Pauline Jones], age 19, who still held the package. She hysterically told them she believed she was taking a picture of Mrs. [Smith] with a camera.

Between sobs she told her story. Several weeks ago, she said, she was employed by an insurance investigator, who told her to investigate a jewel robbery and wanted Mrs. [Smith] photographed. The investigator met her today in the underground station and handed her a package, which was about fourteen inches long with a small hole in it.

"This is a camouflaged camera," the man told her. Then he said, "Follow that woman and take a picture of her."

As the other woman walked in her direction she pulled what she thought was the camera shutter. There was an explosion and Mrs. [Smith] fell. A man rushed up to Mrs [Smith], spoke to her, and then fled.

A bystander rushed up to help the wounded woman, who said to him, "I am going to die. He threatened me before. This time he got me. He can have me now if he wants me. I am crippled. What happened to the police? I called them, but he was too smart for them."

Later, Mrs. [Smith], who is not expected to live, told the police that the man was her husband, [Gregorio Smith], age 30, who wounded her less than two months ago with a pistol.

Miss [Jones], almost hysterical, told the police that the investigator had given her packages supposed to contain a camera on previous occasions, and that she had taken "a picture" of Mrs. [Smith] a couple of weeks ago. The investigator told her that that picture was "no good."

Later, Miss [Jones] visited Mrs. [Smith] at the hospital and said to her, "I am awfully sorry I shot you. I thought I was merely taking a photograph."

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Moonshine & Camouflaged Shenanigans

Will Vawter, "More Camouflage" (1918)
Above "More Camouflage" by John William (Will) Vawter, from Life magazine (1918).


Earle Bowden, MOONSHINING IS PROFITABLE BUT DANGEROUS, in Panama City News-Herald (Panama City FL), July 11, 1950, p. 6—

Most moonshiners keep chickens, hogs and cattle nearby for camouflage reasons. They must have legitimate excuses for buying chicken feed, grain and scratch feed.



Speed, daring, deception, invention, camouflage and cunning combined with nerve of a high order; utilization of every known means of transportation, from the Indian papoose's place on the back of a squaw and packets tied on drifting sheep to speedy scout planes designed for war, are devoted nowadays to delivering liquor purchased in Canada to cities hundreds of miles below the northern boundary of the United States.…

Funerals designed with the artistry of professional stagecraft, calling every member of a large cast to act with ability, were used successfully for a time. Spare tires of automobiles are chestnuts now, as are reserve tanks hidden within gasoline tanks.


Anon, AUTO THIEVES WORK BOLDLY, in Wichita Daily Eagle (Wichita KS), December 9, 1918—

Police in Petersburg VA captured a Haynes car loaded with fifty quarts of whiskey and drove the car to the police station garage, where they left it to go inside and make out their reports. When they returned to the garage the car was gone—whiskey and all. No clue.

…The up-to-date thieves operating in Rochester NY drive their loot out into unfrequented parts of the country, run the car in a field and camouflage it to resemble a broken down shed, hay stack or pile of brush. The police have recovered a number of these camouflaged cars since the scheme was discovered through a confession.

[John G. Williams, an old-timer from Omaha NE] recommended hanging as a punishment for auto stealing. "If we string up a few of them, it will discourage the others," he said. "It discouraged the horse thieves in the old days."…


Anon, CAMOUFLAGE LATEST PROVIDENCE DRINK, in Huntington Herald (Huntington TX), June 21, 1918—

Providence RI, June 21—A drink called "camouflage," sold to soldiers and sailors in certain cafes here and calculated to intoxicate in jig time, is responsible for the closing of one hotel and several cafes are under suspicion. The agents of the department of justice says girls pilot the soldiers and sailors to the cafes, where the drink is sold without question.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Horse of a Different Color & Stripe

Albino Zebra
Above Photograph of an albino zebra, from a Creative Commons image on Wikimedia.


Add this to our earlier postings (here and here) about the World War 1 practice of camouflaging horses by coloring them with paint or dye. Anon, PAINTING HORSES FOR SERVICE in Northern Times (Carnarvon, Western Australia), January 13, 1917, p. 5—

Protective coloration for military equipment—a lesson in the art of warfare taught extensively on the battlefields of Europe—is being put into practice on the Mexican border says a contemporary. Schemes to render military equipment invisible at comparatively short distances as in vogue in Europe today include the dyeing of horse so that they will merge with the landscape, covering the embankments of isolated batteries with foliage, and painting warships with wavy streaks which have the effect of making them hard to distinguish against the background of a heavy sea. Dyeing a horse to remove his distinctive coloration is one of the first of these lessons to be applied by the United States army on the border. The dye which is in use at this time in the cavalry and artillery camps along the Rio Grande, when applied with a grooming brush or sponge after the hair of the cavalry mount or artillery horse has been thoroughly dampened, will change a dark chestnut to a yellow dun. The animal so treated has been found to be almost invisible at any distance over five hundred paces. It is an easy matter, according to army veterinarians, to vary the strength of the dye used so as to approximate almost the exact coloration of any locality.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Trompe l'Oeil Camouflage

Richard W. Rummell (c1918)
Anon (1919)
Above (top) During World War I, American artist Richard W. Rummell (1848-1924) made this watercolor sketch of the starboard side of a single steamship, camouflaged by painting on its surface trompe l'oeil images of three other ships advancing diagonally toward the right. The caption on the painting reads: Side of steamship painted to represent Fleet of Vessels going diagonally forward to Starboard. This ploy was indeed proposed during the war, but most likely it wasn't ever carried out. Courtesy US National Archives. (bottom) Below that is another (unattributed) artist's rendering of the same idea, as published in Lloyd Seaman, "Masterpieces of Navy Camouflage" in Popular Mechanics magazine. Vol 31 (1919), pp. 217-219. The article's author's caption reads: The masterpiece of navy camouflage: Destroyers painted upon the sides of the ocean leviathans. No Hun submarine commander cared to face the redoubtable destroyers with their deadly depth bombs. Ordinarily, no time was spent in investigation—the U-boats dived and fled the spot.


From "Camouflage" in American Architect. Vol 117 (1920)—

Now that the war [WWI] is over the camouflage artist may be seeking occupation, and the Architect's Journal of London has facetiously thought 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.

Below A somewhat comparable concept: A World War II-era Russian photograph (taken by Alexander Krasavin on 9 August 1942) of the Bolshoi Theatre camouflaged by the application, on its facade, of a painting of an entirely different building. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons / RIA Novosti.

Camouflaged Bolshoi Theatre (1942)

Additional info

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Town & Country Car Camouflage

Town and country camouflage (1940)
The following news article, titled CAMOUFLAGE OF CARS: Must Be Different from Services, appeared in the Glasgow Herald (Scotland) on August 12, 1940—

The Minister of Transport has made an Order prohibiting as from August 25 the use on any highway by an unauthorized person of any vehicle so painted or otherwise treated as to cause it to resemble a camouflaged vehicle in the service of the Armed Forces.

The Ministry advise the use of any neutral color other than the grays and khaki adopted by the Services. Glossy surfaces and light colors should be avoided.

A method advocated by the British Industrial Design Group, which may appeal to car owners of an artistic temperament is that one half of the car, divided longitudinally, should be painted to harmonize with the country and the other half with the town.

In an air attack the car, if it is in the country, can then be driven up against a hedge or bushes with the town camouflage screened, or, if in town, close to a building or wall with the country background hidden.

A photograph of this town and country camouflage scheme (shown above) was published, with the headline TOWN AND COUNTRY CAMOUFLAGE FOR BRITISH AUTOS, in the Pittsburgh Press on September 15 of the same year. The caption for the photo reads—

As a war effort contribution the British industrial designers have worked out a method for camouflaging private autos. One side of the car is painted to blend with "town" backgrounds, the other with country. In the picture a "town" merges into a building background.


Car camouflage has not always proven successful. The October 11, 1943 issue of the Deseret News (Salt Lake City UT) featured the following story, with the heading CAMOUFLAGE GOOD TO CERTAIN POINT

DENVER— Pvt. [John Doe] was preparing today to return to the the army's camouflage school at Camp Maxey TX for some more lessons.

Pvt. [Doe], masquerading as a bed, was arrested in Denver for questioning in connection with the possession of a weirdly painted automobile, reported stolen from an officer at Camp Maxey.

Officers of the auto theft division said they trailed [Doe] to his room, but on searching the premises they could find no trace of the soldier. The police then sat down on a bed to ponder the whereabouts of [Doe], and suddenly the bed collapsed and out scrambled the soldier.

[Doe] said he had utilized his army training and "protective screened" himself when he heard them enter his room. 

Prior to the failure of his bed disguise, Pvt. [Doe] had had quite some success as a camouflage artist. He told police that he had "tired of army life" last August, stepped unnoticed into an army officer's car, and drove, still unnoticed, out the camp gates.

Hearing a radio broadcast, in Liberal KS, that he was wanted. [Doe] decided to paint his car according to army camouflage standards. However, the strangely painted car was noticed by police and led to his arrest.


Here's yet another example, titled CAMOUFLAGE JAILS HIM, from the Milwaukee Sentinel on August 23, 1960—

NEW YORK—Police said a gunman who robbed two cars knew nothing about camouflage.

He had blond hair, wore a yellow shirt and drove away from the holdups in a bright yellow car. Two patrolmen spotted the car and arrested [John Hancock] 30, on charges of robbery and illegal possession of a weapon.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

FDR In Camouflage | Cecil Calvert Beall

Portrait of FDR by Cecil Calvert Beall (c1933)
The American artist who produced this portrait of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not (to our knowledge) serve as a camouflage artist, but it certainly looks like he could have. It is a clever composite (chockful of delightful puns) devised c1933 (some say 1936) by magazine illustrator Cecil Calvert Beall (1892-1967). This is a black and white version of course, but the initial painting (as shown below) was in full-color. It was met with such widespread approval that the National Democratic Party used it in its next presidential campaign, assigning it the title of Find What Roosevelt Means to the US in This Picture.

Full-color versions of the same composite portrait

Then or sometime later, it was apparently revised for promotional use in connection with FDR's residence at Warm Springs GA, describing it as "The Little White House," and introducing images of Eleanor Roosevelt and the United Nations.

Beall was a native of Montana who had studied at the Art Students League in New York with George Bridgman. It doesn't seem that "visual puns" were his usual way of working (look up Arcimboldo for historical precedents), but we do know that he used the same technique in at least one other painting. As shown below, it appeared in a wartime poster for the US Army Recruiting Service (presumably for World War I, if the soldier's helmet is correct).

buy online

In psychology, composite puzzle pictures such as these are typically referred to as "embedded figures." For a discussion of how these have been used in art, architecture and design (as well as, literally, in camouflage), here is an online essay.

additional sources

Friday, November 1, 2013

French Horse Camouflaged With Paint

French soldiers painting a horse (1917)
In the San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday, June 24, 1917, there was a lengthy article on World War I camouflage, titled A PECULIAR WAR NEED THAT AMERICA MUST FILL. In the bottom left corner of the page, there is a small, poor quality photograph of a group of people painting a horse—yes, actually applying paint to a live horse. The caption reads—

The French, who have carried the "camouflage" to further extremes than any of the warring powers, paint all conspicuously white horses khaki color to make them invisible.

There is further confirmation of this practice in Cécile Coutin's recent book, Tromper l'ennemi: L'invention du camouflage moderne en 1914-1918. On pages 114-115, she reproduces two photographs of French soldiers applying brown pigment to a white horse. One of these photographs was published on the cover of Le Petit Journal agricole (No. 1120, December 23, 1917), while the other one (shown above) was taken on the same occasion. The caption explains that the paint consists of potassium permanganate. Hmmm. One wonders what the effects would be on the well-being of the horse.

Friday, October 11, 2013

WWI Ship Camouflaged as Island

Philip Little (c1917), battleship disguised as island
We've discovered something rather odd. It's an unusual painting in the collection of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). It is undated (but presumably goes back to 1917) but bears the very clear signature of Philip Little, Salem, Mass. The most curious thing about it is foretold by its title: Battleship camouflaged as "An Island." This is followed by a note that reads: Canvas screens painted appropriately would be used, as in some foreign service. Boston Navy Yard. Zooming in on it on screen, it becomes apparent that the painting was made on the surface of a line drawing (or diagram) of an "outboard profile" of a World War I-era ship, identified as the USS Delaware, an American dreadnought battleship. Shown below is a close-up of a detail of this behemoth dressed up as an island, while above are three other views, including the entire painting, the artist's signature, and the label that's glued to the surface. Odd indeed.

Philip Little (c1917), battleship disguised as island
So who was Philip Little (1857-1942), and how and when was he involved in ship camouflage? There is no shortage of sources, online and otherwise. In the Boston Sunday Globe (September 9, 1917, p. 38), there is a news article by (Globe art critic) A.J. Philpott titled IN CAMOUFLAGE WAR MAKING DECEPTION INTO A FINE ART. It's a substantial article, near the end of which there is this note—

Philip Little, the Salem artist, who paints both landscapes and marines and who is one of the foremost painters in the country, recently experimented with camouflage on a boat with very remarkable success. It is men of his stamp who should be called on for service in this new emergency.

This may be in reference to Little's proposal (above) to disguise a battleship as an island, or it may refer instead to his other attempts at ship camouflage. In an unpublished and undated typescript by US Navy camoufleur Everett L. Warner ("Summary of Points to be Made in a General Lecture on Marine Camouflage") states that two photographs of camouflage schemes, designed by Little, were forwarded to him by the Boston Navy Yard on January 10, 1918. According to Navy records, the photographs (of the USS Yacona and the USS Aztec, both shown below) were taken on December 20, 1917. Clearly, these are not examples of island mimicry, but appear instead to fall between the "low visibility" (or optical mixture) experiments of muralist William Andrew Mackay (inspired by the findings of physicist Ogden Rood) and various "disruption" schemes.

Philip Little (1917), camouflage schemes for USS Yacona and USS Aztec

Monday, September 2, 2013

Did Dazzle Camouflage Really Work?

Blodgett ship camouflage plans (redrawn)
WHILE LECTURING recently at the Sydney College of the Arts in Australia, I shared my digital reconstructions of a number of course deception plans for World War I ship camouflage (commonly known as dazzle camouflage). Five of those are shown above. The original study was conducted by Leo S. Blodgett, a Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering student at MIT, and the results were published in his Bachelor of Science degree thesis (1919).

This full document can be accessed here at the MIT library website. His hand-drawn colored diagrams of camouflaged ship models are somewhat imperfectly rendered, so I have redrawn them on computer. A more serious problem is that the color swatches (a key to the colors applied to the ship models) were apparently made with opaque watercolor (gouache), and some of the colors have dramatically changed with the passage of time. So the colors in my reconstructions may differ considerably from the originals. Also, as Blodgett mentions in his text, he restricted his experiments to those that made intentional use of perspective distortions or forced perspective (aka "false perspective").

Using a ship camouflage testing theatre that, at the end of the war, was given to MIT by Boston-area camouflage artists (he includes two photographs of it, reproduced below), he determined that average course estimation errors could sometimes be substantial. To date, this is the most persuasive proof that not only was dazzle camouflage effective in diverting the aim of the U-boats, it was far better than anyone thought.

Ship Camouflage Testing Theatre (c1919)
More recently, I found another document, titled Notes on Course Deception Principles. In public domain, it appears to be a US Government report [Contract NObe-72039. Task 3 (Final Report). Report No. 3-8. September 1959]. The study was conducted by MIT optical physiologist Seibert Quimby Duntley, whose emphasis on "false perspective" may suggest that he had some awareness of the research by Blodgett. Also, in the final paragraph, when he mentions automobile styling in relation to camouflage, he is probably alluding to the work of designers and color consultants at General Motors (notably H. Ledyard Towle, who was an army camoufleur during WWI). Here is the full text (there are no illustrations)—

These notes were originated in support of efforts to avoid course deception effects in the painting of aircraft. They constitute a brief discussion of some of the principles employed in the design of the course-deception patterns and type-deception patterns formerly incorporated in the painting of surface ships as a defense against submarine and surface ship attack directed by visual sightings. Although technical developments have eliminated these measures from naval practice, the concepts from which they were developed are not without present value. The notes are reported herein primarily because no comparable written material on this subject appears to be available.

Several effective patterns for the painting of surface vessels were devised in World Wars I and II to decrease the probability that the true course and speed of the ship would be correctly estimated by an observer at sea level. It is the purpose of this report to discuss some of the principles upon which the design of these patterns was based.

Successful estimation of the course of a vessel involves a special mental process in the recognition category: When some object which might be a ship is visually perceived, the observer is required to search his memory and generate within his brain visualizations of known ship-types at various headings in order to compare these visualizations with the appearance of the object. When the correlation between the apparent object and one of these visualizations is sufficiently good the observer experiences a sense of recognition and course estimation. This mental process, usually subconscious and rapid, requires familiarity with the appearance of ships and, of course, improves with experience due to the accumulation of memory. If visualizations at more than one heading correlate closely with the appearance of the unknown object, course estimation is ambiguous; accuracy is possible only if there is a rapid rate of change of correlation between the appearance of the unknown object and a series of visualized ship headings. Any factor causing the appearance of the object to fail to correlate with visualizations based upon memory of known ships will inhibit or prevent recognition and course estimation. It is not surprising, therefore, that several types of course deception pattern techniques have been evolved. These can, however, be classified into two main groups, which might be termed confusion measures and falsification measures, respectively, for lack of more standardized terminology. These two categories will be discussed separately in the following sections.

As previously stated, any factor causing the appearance of an unknown object to fail to correlate with visualizations based upon memory of known ships will inhibit or prevent course estimation. Two classical methods for achieving confusion by means of paint have been called dazzle and low visibility, respectively.

The weird and garish dazzle designs so common on ships plying the North Atlantic during World War I have long disappeared from the seas, but pictures of them are easily available and universally excite curiously concerning the origins, the functions, and the basis for their design. All dazzle patterns sought to give the ship an unrecognizable appearance from a "periscope viewpoint." Almost any large discordant pattern departing markedly from all natural lines of a ship can accomplish this confusion objective. Each of the artists who conducted dazzle studies at model scale evolved favorite pattern-types, all of which served to produce course deception by confusion. The best of the dazzle patterns, however, sought to incorporate false perspective as a further course deception feature; perspective distortion as an independent course deception measure will be discussed in a later section.

Low visibility painting schemes for ships are still in use and are intended primarily to reduce the probability of the presence of the ship being visually detected. This is usually accomplished to some useful degree, but every low visibility treatment is a compromise and approaches true concealment within only a very narrow gamut of lighting and viewing conditions. At other times, portions of the vessel may be difficult or impossible to see, but other parts are readily visible. When this situation prevails, recognition of the ship may be impossible and its course may be difficult to estimate. The low visibility paint is then serving to provide course deception by confusion.

Since any factor causing the appearance of an unknown object to fail to correlate with the correct visualization of the ship being observed may lead to an erroneous course prediction, falsification of several kinds were employed in ship camouflage. Included in this category of course deception measures are disguise, false cues, false perspective, and symbolic patterns. Many ingenious falsification measures have been devised, but this report will mention only a few examples.

Disguise took many forms and was more commonly employed for reasons of type deception than course deception. False superstructure was added, for example, to tankers to make them resemble freighters, transports, or even warships, and in so doing reverse bow and stern in order to add an element of course deception.

False Cues included such devices as a bow wave painted at the stern of the ship, or a pint pattrn on or near the stack of a vessel intended to make the stack appear to learn toward the bow rather than the stern.

False Perspective was not confined to dazzle patterns. False superstructures and false water lines were employed to produce an untrue illusion of distance and to produce errors in stadiometric ranging through a periscope. False water lines tilted slight from bow to stern gave to the ship the illusion of a false heading. An analogous effect was sometimes achieved by the use of non-parallel bands of paint on the sides of vessels having multiple decks, thus inducing a false convergence relation.

Symbolic Patterns saw relatively little use in naval camouflage but they are extensively used as a type of "falsification measure" in many forms of art and design. A recent example is found in the current styling used by a certain automobile manufacturer, who says that his cars appear to be in motion even when standing still. This is achieved by an overall wedge-shaped motif high at the rear and tapering to a low point in front, suggestion of the configuration of recent high speed aircraft or of an arrow point. Arrows or chevron markings are often used to indicate direction.

books & historic prints and photographs

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Australian Radio Interview | Roy R. Behrens

Click here to access podcast
Above An interview of Roy R. Behrens by Margaret Throsby, broadcast live on Midday on ABC Classic FM on August 13, 2013, in Sydney, Australia. Among the topics of conversation were music, improvisation, Eric Satie, Billie Holiday, Keith Jarrett, Eden Ahbez, Gertrude Stein, William Cook, Le Corbusier, Buffalo Bill, ventriloquism, Iowa—and camouflage.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Camouflage Cartoons | Maurice Ketten

Until a few days ago, we had never heard of an Italian-born American cartoonist named Maurice Ketten (1875-?), née Prosper Fiorini, and at this point we still know very little. Apparently he studied art in Paris at the École des Beaux Arts, then emigrated to the US around 1906. He became a well-known cartoonist for the New York World (1907-1930s), for which he produced a daily cartoon. Shown here are two cartoons he made about camouflage that were featured in the Washington Post in 1917.


Dialog for Office Camouflage (above)—

—Mr. John, hereafter I want to see you at your desk more. You spend too much time out of the office. Tell Mr. Bill this applies to him too.

—Yes , Boss.

—He! He!


—Yes, Boss, they are at their desks.



—Did it work?

—Yes, the boss thinks he saw you at your desk, Mr. John.


Dialog for Home Camouflage (below)—

—Go to our room and go to bed! You can't go out tonight.

—O, very well.


—The inventor of the fire escape must have been a married man.


—Something queer! He is not snoring.


—Well! What a clever home camouflage!


—Won't she get onto it?

—Never! If she goes to my room she'll think I'm asleep. I did a nice little bit of camouflage.


—The idiot! He doesn't know yet after forty years that he never sleeps without snoring.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Dazzle Camouflage in Obsolete! Magazine

Cover of Obsolete! Magazine Number 8 (2013)
In recent months, we were interviewed about dazzle camouflage by Iowa writer and editor Rich Dana, founder and publisher of Obsolete! Magazine: The Journal of DIY Analog Anarchy. The interview is featured in the magazine's eighth issue, which came out a few days ago. Above is a scan of the cover. Back issues are available online, and a sample copy of the current print issue can be requested free of charge from the magazine's blog. Using Kickstarter, the magazine has also launched an online fundraising effort in support of future issues.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

John Dewey | Camouflaging One's Self

Above World War I photograph of a British soldier, dressed in bark mimic sniper's outfit, posed beside a bark-covered observation post, disguised as a dead tree. From Ferdinand Foch, et al., The People's War Book. Cleveland OH: R.C. Barnum, 1920. Public domain.


From Randolph S. Bourne, in J.W. Cunliffe and G.R. Lomer, eds., Writing of Today. New York: Century Company, 1919, p. 175—

In all his [John Dewey's] philosophy there is no place for the psychology of prestige. His democracy seems almost to take that extreme form of refusing to bring ones self or ones ideas to the attention of others. On the college campus or in the lecture room he seems positively to efface himself. The uncertainty of his silver-gray hair and drooping moustache, of his voice, of his clothes, suggests that he has almost studied the technique of protective coloration.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Ghost Army Camouflage DVD

Good news! Rick Beyer's excellent documentary on the Ghost Army, the World War II deception unit, which premiered only last week, is already available for online purchase for only $19.95 at the PBS website here.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Cécile Coutin on WWI French Camouflage

Today we ordered a copy (sight unseen) of a recent book (the text is completely in French) by French art historian Cécile Coutin, titled Tromper l'ennemi: L'invention du camouflage moderne en 1914-1918. Paris: Éditions Pierre de Taillac, 2012, 240 pp. Coutin, who is the chief conservator at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF), has researched art and camouflage for many years. Her earlier findings were published in a three-part article titled "Les Artistes de La Guerre: Le Camouflage Pendant La Première Guerre Mondiale" in Historiens-Géographes. Nos 321 (December 1988) and 322 (March-April 1989). This new book (which again, I haven't actually seen) appears to be the grand result of her patient pursuit of this subject. It is illustrated by 300 drawings, paintings, photographs and other documents from historic archives. The cover, reproduced above, shows three French soldiers (presumably camoufleurs) testing a steel-lined artificial tree (constructed in sections, with a ladder inside), used as a battlefield observation post. Other portions of the book can be viewed online here.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Book Review | The British Phantom Army

Rick Stround, The Phantom Army of Alamein (2012)

The Phantom Army of Alamein: 
How the Camouflage Unit and
Operation Bertram 
Hoodwinked Rommel
by Rick Stroud
Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 2012
288 pp., illus. b&w. Trade, $25.95
ISBN: 978-1-4088-2910-3.

Some time in 2013, a new documentary film titled The Ghost Army will premiere on American public television. It will spell out the little-known story of a World War II U.S. Army unit that operated secretly in Europe from 1944 until the war’s end. That unit was made up of more than a thousand soldiers who in civilian life were so-called “creative types,” among them such now prominent names as the painter Ellsworth Kelly, fashion designer Bill Blass, wildlife artist Arthur Singer, and photographer Art Kane. Working as a team, they impersonated other army units and created persuasive illusions (both physical and auditory) of misleading, unreal battle events.

This book is not about that American unit, as tempting as it is to think that “ghost army” is synonymous with “phantom army.” Rather, this book tells the story of a comparable but earlier British outfit—consisting largely of artists as well—that was formed in 1942 for the massive, focused task of fooling German forces (headed by General Erwin Rommel, aka the “Desert Fox”) in the sands of North Africa in the Second Battle of El Alamein. The resulting Allied victory was in part attributed to (by none other than Winston Churchill) the ingenious clandestine trickery of the British Middle East Command Camouflage Directorate in a famous large-scale project called “Operation Bertram.”

Unlike the American Ghost Army (kept secret until 1996), details of this British ruse have been known since at least 1949, when one of its self-touting members, British stage magician Jasper Maskelyne, wrote what is widely considered to be an embellished and largely self-serving account, titled Magic—Top Secret. Three years later, the film director who headed the unit, Major Geoffrey Barkas, published his own eyewitness report of the operation, titled The Camouflage Story (from Aintree to Alamein). Over the years, those two books have been supplemented by ten or more others about the unit’s achievements. According to its publisher, this one, which has just come out, “tells for the first time the full story.”

So what did these soldier-artist-camoufleurs do? How did they hoodwink the Desert Fox? The answer(s) to that constitutes the best moments in the book. In general, I think it would be fair to say that they used two approaches: First, they made key weaponry disappear—not by vanishing, but by disguising it as something else, as a less threatening, innocuous thing. Tanks were made to look like trucks. Field artillery was concealed in other phony forms. And food, fuel and other supplies were covered up and stacked to look like harmless transport vehicles. Second, at other times, for other purposes, they did the opposite—making clever use of the simplest materials, they constructed trompe l’oeil dummies (tanks, artillery, support vehicles) to create an illusory build-up, to “reveal” things that were never there. As a result, they made the enemy think that Allied forces were being amassed at times and places that differed critically from the real situation. This Second Battle of El Alamein, in which these methods were employed, was the war’s first victory for the Allies.

If illusions, unfounded resemblance and various other visual subterfuges are bewildering to experience, they are at least equally hard to describe. One thing that sets this book apart is the richness of… more>>>

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Poop Mimic Camouflage

Above Photographs of swallowtail butterfly larvae in our backyard in Iowa, affectionately referred to as "poop mimics." Photo by Mary Snyder Behrens. The "poetry mimic" below is another stinker.

Gene Fowler, "Camouflage" in Our Paper. November 10, 1917, p. 533 (originally published in the Denver Labor Bulletin)—

The shades of night were falling fast
As through a busy street there passed
A dame dressed up like seventeen,
But fifty years, at least, she'd seen—

An old sport, with a foxy vest,
Wears one huge diamond on his chest.
His friends admire him for his taste.
They do not know it is of paste—

The actress with the Titian hair
Makes hearts beat hard and fond eyes stare.
Ah! Those rare tints of auburn locks
Rise deftly from some drugstore box:

The bunk man seeketh him a hick
And slippeth him a neat gold brick.
The sucker thinks he's bought in snug.
Ho, Warden, ho! another bug—

The girl you woo is small and sweet
You lay your love there at her feet
A year you're married. Ring, bells, ring.
Ah! tell me. Death, where is thy sting?

And so, in every vale of life.
(Look out, you're eating with your knife),
You find the things that are, just ain't!
(Get out another coat of paint)—

Sunday, October 28, 2012

More on Camoufleur H. Ledyard Towle

In earlier writings, we've documented the contributions of American women to camouflage, in connection with their service in the Women's Reserve Camouflage Corps during World War I. In the photo above, published in the Evening Public Ledger Philadelphia (May 13, 1918), four women camoufleurs are demonstrating their camouflaged "observer's suits." These had been constructed as part of a camouflage course, taught by a New York portrait painter, named H. Ledyard Towle, whom we wrote about recently with regard to his prominent later career as an industrial color consultant for DuPont, General Motors and Pittsburgh Plate Glass. Below is most likely a news publicity photograph of Towle at the time he was teaching this camouflage course.

More recently, we ran across an Associated Press news article in the Waterloo Courier (IA) (Wednesday, April 10, 1929, p. 14), which reproduces a photo of Towle, and describes him as a "chief color expert for the General Motors corporation" and "a pioneer in the movement which has brought lavender tea boxes, turquoise alarm clocks and a host of vivid motor cars."

Towle is briefly quoted about his experiences as an army camoufleur and camouflage instructor. "I went into the war thinking that art belonged to the chosen few," he recalls, but "I came out knowing that beauty belonged to every urchin in the street. Working on war-time camouflage problems taught me how to use color with a purpose. I saw the futility of painting portraits to collect dust in museums, and turned to camouflaging industry and its products of everyday life."

In June 1928, according to this news account, General Motors established an "art and color section," and Towle was appointed its "chief color expert." The article concludes: "He is now studying the 'color consciousness' of each section of the country, hoping to perfect hues which will satisfy the particular desires of each district." As we observed in an earlier post, the story of Towle's contributions (and other camoufleurs as well) to the uses of color in commerce has recently been published in Regina Lee Blaszczyk's The Color Revolution (2012).

Camouflage Artist | Frederick J. Hoertz

Above These news photographs of unidentified American dazzle-camouflaged ships were published in The Morse Drydock Dial (April 1919), p. 4. They accompanied an article by C. Stewart Wark titled "Why Camouflage?" Here are a couple of excerpts—

We all remember the first camouflaged ship that came into the dry dock. How grotesque it looked and what a strange sight it was to our eyes. Then the number of them began to increase with such amazing rapidity that the sight no longer had any charms, and we began to regard the zigzag and whatnot painting designs without any particular regard.

Later in the article, Wark talks about having seen the camouflage of an American troopship the USS Von Steuben, which bore a dazzle camouflage scheme on its starboard side, while on its port side was painted a ship silhouette, making it seem escorted by a destroyer. It is highly probable, the article continues—

that this idea originated with Mr. [Frederick J.] Hoertz [1889-1978], the artist who drew the cover for this issue of The Dial. Mr. Hoertz submitted designs to the government which were exactly duplicated on the Von Steuben. His idea also called for smoke pots just over the dummy funnels to make the painted destroyer seem more realistic.

This idea of deception in regard to the character of the craft was used more extensively and to better effect by the Italians than by the naval authorities of our country, where that system could not be said to have gotten above the experimental stage.

A favorite effect employed by the Italian navy was to camouflage a ship so that from a distance it looked like two or three vessels, all heading in different directions. The Italian battleships at our docks some time ago showed that method of camouflaging.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Camouflage Poet | Marvin Bell

On the Fly, Marvin Bell

Many years ago (has it been that long ago?), we organized a non-funded one-day symposium on camouflage, called CAMOUFLAGE: Art, Science and Popular Culture (Saturday, April 22, 2006 at the Kamerick Art Building at the University of Northern Iowa). Although only a few of our colleagues were there from the Department of Art, other scholars came from departments across campus, from around the country, and even from throughout the world, each one speaking sans honorarium, and each one paying completely for his/her own expenses. What an unforgettable day it was. Three of those who spoke that day have since published important books on the subject (Maite Méndez Baiges, Camuflaje: Engano y Ocultación en El Arte Contemporáneo (2007); Henrietta Goodden, Camouflage and Art: Design for Deception in World War 2 (2007); and Ann Elias, Camouflage Australia: Art, Nature, Science and War (2011)), and a poem that was written by American poet Marvin Bell (see online interview above), as a keynote for the conference, has since been reprinted in his recent book, Vertigo: The Living Dead Man Poems (2011). Soon, it will also be featured online as the poem of the week on Narrative Magazine. Here it is in full—


Marvin Bell (©2006)
from The Book of the Dead Man

                  Live as if you were already dead.
                                             —Zen admonition

1. About the Dead Man and Camouflage

When the dead man wears his camouflage suit, he hides
     in plain sight.
The dead man, in plain sight, disrupts the scene but cannot
     be seen.
His chocolate-chip-cookie shirt mimics the leaves in a breeze.
His frog-skin dress, his bumpy earth nature, leave us lost and
     alone, his mottled apparel sends us in circles.
His displacements distract and disabuse us, he is a
     slick beguiler.
Everything the dead man does is a slight disruption
     of normality.
He is the optical trickster, the optimum space-saver, the one
     to watch for.
He is of a stripe that flusters convention, he is the one
     to watch out for.
That we thought him gone only proves his wily knowledge.
The dead man has lain unseen among the relics of
     embalmed time.
He was always here, always there, right in front of us, timely.
For it was not in the dead man’s future to be preserved.
It was his fate to blend in, to appear in the form of,
     to become...
Now he lives unseen among the lilies, the pines, the
     sweet corn.
It was the dead man’s native desire to appear not to be.

2. More About the Dead Man and Camouflage

The dead man knows that camouflage is all in the mind.
He has seen in the human need for shape the undoing
     of shape.
He has witnessed the displacement of up-and-down, across
     and slantwise.
He has curled the straight lines and unbent the curves, he has
     split the wishbone and painted outside the lines.
The dead man has undone the map by which to get there.
It is not what the dead man looks like, but what
     he no longer resembles.
For he hath reappeared in no disguise but as himself.
Call him disheveled, call him disposed, call him shiftless,
     he is.
For he hath been made and remade in the form of
     his surroundings.
He hath become all things that he looketh like.
Hence, he has been stepped on by those who could not
     see him.
He has been knelt upon by those who looked in vain.
The dead man bestirs in a background that looked inert.
The dead man is the ultimate camouflage.
He is everywhere, but where is he?


Those who attended the conference that day were given, as a memento, a signed broadside of the poem (see below).