Monday, December 25, 2017

Staged Illusions | Scenography and Camouflage

In earlier posts, we've talked about the role of set designers, called scenographers, in the development of camouflage. Among those that spring to mind are Homer St-Gaudens, Louis Bérard, Joseph Harker, Carol Sax, Adrian Samoiloff and others. 

In a recent essay on "Setting the Stage for Deception," we also discussed the relevance of forced perspective (as used in stage and film design) to dazzle ship camouflage in World War I. 

As noted in a post about camouflage and Hollywood set designers, the inherent link between camouflage and scenography was documented in 1989 in a dissertation by Ronald Naversen at Southern Illinois University.

Just this year, a new book has been released that once again targets this topic. It's a volume of scholarly essays (see cover above), edited by Victor Emiljanow, titled War and Theatrical Innovation (Palgrave MacMillan, 2017). Of particular interest are essays by Fraser Stevens (on the use of acting techniques in training spies for espionage) and Greer Crawley (on recruiting scenographers in both World Wars as camoufleurs). Of pertinence to Stevens' essay about acting and espionage, we are reminded of The Camouflage Project at The Ohio State University in 2011. As confirmed online, Crawley's essay is in part indebted to her 300-page doctoral dissertation called "Strategic Scenography: Staging the Landscape of War" (2011).


THE THEATRES. Washington. The Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram (Richmond IN). March 19, 1920—

When Sooner or Later, the current Owen Moore Selznick Picture comes to the Washington theatre today and tomorrow, local fans will have their first opportunity of seeing one of the latest phases of movie progress—the art of camouflage, developed to such a high extent during the war and now adapted to motion picture studio uses.

Joseph Teicher, the scenic artist at the Selznick studio is chiefly responsible for the development. Without disturbing the dramatic continuity of the production, it was necessary to take Owen Moore and his company to a wide stretch of country, with lake and hills and winding paths, the whole flooded with moonlight.

This was done with the aid of all the tools of the camouflager—paint, board, frames of steel and wire, and the scientific use of perspective. The result was so baffling that photographs of it deceived all who had not seen the studio scenes. For the movie cameras the "coup de camouflage" went over with a bang.