- Camoupedia—A Compendium of Research on Art, Architecture and Camouflage
Conflating the words camouflage and encyclopedia as a title is clearly an attempt to disguise the true intent of this volume. The outcome of enthusiastic research it is, but an entertaining summary of the field it also manages to be. It's hard to believe that it was only in Modern times that soldiers were obliged to take measures to survive if only to enjoy the peace. Concealing their presence on the battlefield to achieve this desirable outcome was less to do with returning as heroes and more a part of the development of industrialized warfare. Science and technology conspired to deliver death from beyond the horizon with machines of war so cumbersome that they immobilized the soldier. Hiding and obscuring physical evidence of intent was as necessary for the squaddie and the GI as the generals' conspiracies to ensure the continuation of the [End Page 297] conflict—good for business, then as now.
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The band of brothers we encounter alphabetically in this research are, for the most part, the boys in the backroom; and we gather they had a lot of fun—razzle, dazzle, baffle and zébrage, especially for the hell of sail or other extreme environments: ice, snow and rain, and more rain. Behrens has, it seems, tracked down every last one of the brothers: printmakers, painters, sculptors, even art theorists and set designers, well versed in forced perspective. Apparently architects made the best field camoufleurs, scattering their flowers, their nettings and their trompe l'oeil while under fire from the enemy. Painters, however, trained as they were to touchup and varnish, were not good at leaving details to subordinates. Usually wrangled into Groups, Corps and Societies, camoufleurs are listed here from amongst the talent of England, France, Australia, South Africa and, predominantly, the U.S.A., where the author is based. Curiously, the adversaries marshaled under the Kaiser are hardly mentioned, except in one instance when some German airmen dropped a message to soldiers of le Grande Alliance suggesting improvements to their methods of concealment—wir sprechen Technik.
Claims abound as to who was the first to propose concealment in warfare; Shakespeare gets a mention though not his Forest of Dunsinane. Abbott and son Gerald Thayer's article and book on Coloration in Animals in 1909 in the U.S. prompted serious interest from the intelligentsia if not the military. It was not until later in the Great War of 1914–1918 that together with other sources in France and the U.K., its usefulness became recognized. The word denature was used to describe the painting of familiar objects in strange ways; camouflage became "the Cubists' revenge," something denied as coincidental by its main protagonist, Georges Braque, another camoufleur, the British surrealist Roland Penrose was another in the following World War, publishing a wartime Home Guard manual on the subject, with a chapter entitled "How To Turn Yourself into a Hedge"; the famed Comédie-Française actor Jean-Louise Barrault (described as a comedian!) also served in a camouflage unit. Robin Darwin (a descendent of the definer of the species), presciently recommended interdisciplinary creative approaches to a British War Ministry; "that artists and designers are of undoubted value in the development of camouflage, but that they should work alongside engineers, architects and scientists." And the psychologists came up with the term legendary psychasthenia, or "the inability of people to distinguish themselves from their surroundings, social or otherwise," a term surely useful in many contexts today. And camouflage toilet tissue came into being with a U.S. Patent Number!
Camouflage technology emerges as the reader works through the book, picking out detail from the background of seemingly endless anecdotal biography entertainingly presented, although of curiosity value to any but the serious researcher. Experiments by each and every recruit to the cause led to hosts of visual treats guaranteed to alarm if not succeed in...