Camouflage cultures: beyond the art of disappearance


Edited by Ann Elias, Ross Harley and Nicholas Tsoutas
Sydney University Press
ISBN: 9781743324257

Camouflage has been linked with military and natural history contexts, but growing interest in the connections between areas such as ecology, evolution, visual deception and warfare, has taken the concept of camouflage beyond the politics of appearance, the art of disappearance or simple strategies of mimicry.

Approaching this subject from the disciplines of art history and theory, art practice, biology, cultural theory, literature and philosophy, this volume greatly expands the reach of camouflage's cultural terrain. The result is a collection that provides a new perspective on the developing discourse of camouflage and contributes to debates about the roles that physical, artistic and social camouflage play in contemporary life.

My chapter ‘Interventions in seeing: GDR surveillance, camouflage & the Cold War camera’, discusses an archival project by Arwed Messmer and Annett Gröschner titled The Other View: The Early Berlin Wall from 2011 and another project by Messmer titled Reenactments 2014. Both projects take archival photographs from the Cold War (the border photographers and the Stasi) as a source for the relevant series.

The Other View: The Early Berlin Wall
" Messmer’s photographic engagement with images from these archives explores issues of propaganda and concealment in relation to the erection of the Berlin Wall, attempted border breaks and their associated crime-scenes, and brings into view heinous actions of surveillance activities against German citizens. Combined with the relatively unchartered limits on seeing in Germany, both in the national socialist period and the Cold War, the photographic archival projects discussed here take on new meaning and can be read as engaging with a specific photographic seeing, which is to look at looking itself."

"In developing his enquiry into the GDR archives, Messmer has turned to issues related to the psychological space of surveillance photography taken by the Stasi, in particular, photographs of attempted escape reenactments. As Messmer explained in an interview with the author, when GDR citizens were caught attempting to escape they were often forced to reenact their attempt for the Stasi record. Part of this reenactment included cruel, psychological torture of exacting detail that was recorded in photographs."