Hiding in Plain Sight – Camoufleurs of the 21st Century
The Big Tower, Camouflaged, Colin Moss 1943
Of the top ten most surveilled cities in the world, only two cities are outside China – Atlanta and London1. With an estimated 420,000 CCTV cameras operating in our capital city, we are “on camera” for much of the time – often unwittingly.
London based group The Dazzle Club2 brings together art, politics and activism to question and explore this “normalisation” of surveillance in our public spaces, through the use of dazzle camouflage techniques.
Since August 2019, the group has staged silent hour-long walks through different various parts of the city with each member decorating their face with anti-facial recognition patterns. Their ideas echo methods first developed by the camoufleurs of World War I and II and, more recently, CV Dazzle created by Adam Harvey3, an artist whose work explores the impacts of surveillance technologies.
Camoufleurs Hiding in Plain Sight
Colin Moss was part of the Camouflage Directorate from 1939 – 1943. Recruited solely from the foremost artists of their generation, the aim of the camoufleurs was the concealment of civilian installations, confusing “a pilot at a minimum of five miles distant and 5,000 feet up throughout daylight” using techniques such as dazzle.
“We’re hiding in plain sight,”
Emily Roderick “The Dazzle Club” 4
During his service in the Camouflage Directorate, Colin designed a number of camouflage schemes for installations such as Stonebridge Park Power Station, London. The key to “dazzling” is to break up the surface of the object whether it’s a power station or a face:
“You’re trying to obscure the natural highlights and shadows on your face. Cameras will reduce you down to pixels. They’ll pick up the bridge of your nose, your forehead, your cheekbones, your mouth and chin. So you have to flatten your face and obscure it.”
Georgina Rowlands “The Dazzle Club”5
The camoufleurs had similar aims, creating designs that featured disruptive patterns, in a range of colours, painted onto buildings. Their aim too was to break up forms and outlines, so objects were difficult to locate and detect even against a shifting background (ie when looking down from a plane).
The patterns consisted of a mixture of dark and light colours being painted next to each other. At power stations like Stonebridge (where The Cooling Tower was painted), the fuel was even changed to produce darker smoke that would contrast with its surroundings for “disruptive colouration”.
Stonebridge Power Station
21st Century Camouflage
Ultimately the Dazzle Club’s aim is not to fool the cameras and other surveillance technology in use on our streets. It’s about highlighting, through art, the creeping normalisation of surveillance in our towns and cities – to start a debate and make us aware of how ubiquitous this tech is.
“If someone steals your credit card, you can cancel it and get a new one … [but] most of us are not going to do plastic surgery to rearrange our identity.”
Scott Urban, designer of anti-facial recognition glasses “Reflectacles”
The Dazzle Club – Exploring surveillance in public spaces. Sign up to Dazzle Club’s newsletter if you’d like to receive details of the Club’s upcoming walks eepurl.com/gEGvnb.