Tag Archives: camouflage

Assignment 4: Languages of Light – Initial Research

Within this assignment I want to explore further the usage of light as started in Exercise 4 ex nihilio.

Having gained confidence in the technique of building light to highlight shape and form I wanted explore the opportunity of how light can be used to either show hidden shape and form or disguise or camouflage shapes and forms we are familiar with   Therefore is it possible to use light to create these effects either by use of techniques such as a high key imaging effectively giving white upon white, or a camouflaged image where the object blends into the background, by either shape, pattern, colour or even texture.

Therefore the questions that I would hope to seek an answer are assuming what I set out to do is the art of the possible are:

  • Do the images challenge our norms of perception?
  • Are they pleasing images?
  • Do they tell us anymore about the object?
  • How much does light individually play its part in changing those perceptions?

Desired Outcome
My goal is to produce a set of images that primarily answer the above questions, but are technically correct, visually pleasing, and are original in nature.  All the criteria are manageable and under my control but it is the last point originality, which concerns me as I start off this exercise.

Clearly the still life is a genre full of many images and a cursory look through the internet would lead one to conclude everything that could have been photographed has been.  Every conceivable compositional arrangement has been used, and every possible lighting technique has been employed so therefore what room is there still to be original in this space?  Counter to that point is still life images are produced every day especially so in the commercial area.  Therefore my thinking at the detailed level is flawed in that else no new creative output would ever be produced, yet it is.

While I understand at this point during the course I am not going to produce unique images of outstanding creative individuality, I have to be careful not to sit in a comfort zone in which I would end up repeating or copying what has been done before.  I need to break free a little from the more formulaic approach I took to creating the images in Assignment 3 – The Decisive Moment.

When we use the term camouflage today more often than not our immediate thoughts are of the green and brown mottled design as used by the army which has lately been adopted by the clothing and fashion industry.  Therefore we tend to think about camouflage the adjective (e.g. a camouflage T-shirt) rather camouflage the verb (we camouflage ourselves so as not to be seen) or camouflage the noun (camouflage is a means of concealment).  We do not necessarily think about the broad aspects of what the word can mean.

There seem to be varying definitions as to the etymology but most are agreed that it became in common use during the First World War more than likely from the French word camoufler  meaning “to veil, disguise”[1].

Also it seems that camouflage breaks down into a number of subdivisions in that there are:

  • Crypsis – Making yourself hard to see. In other words the ability of an organism to conceal itself, usually from a predator, by having a colour, pattern, and shape that allows it to blend into the surrounding environment.
  • Mimesis – Disguising as something else. The act of mimicking another object; for example a butterfly that has the shape of and looks like a leaf.
  • Motion Dazzle – Through the act of movement and colour of shape the object/organism confuses those that observe; for example when a zebra runs the movement of the stripes confuse any predator.

For the purposes of this Assignment I will focus within the area of crypsis as that is where I feel that what I want to achieve lays.

Research has shown there are a number of practitioners within this field.  They are listed in the order that I ‘discovered’ them and therefore my thoughts are ordered that way rather than arranging them in any historical chronological sequence.

1) Liu Bolin
Is a Chinese artist known as the ‘invisible man’.  To bring social or political issues to the attention of a wider audience Bolin makes himself blend into the background of a picture.  The viewer is then ‘forced’ to look deep into the image to both fin Bolin and the message he wishes to promote.  His work was initially in response to the Chinese Government’s decision to close down and demolish an area for artists where Bolin was working.

Liu works on a single photo for up to 10 hours at a time, to make sure he gets it just right, but he achieves the right effect: sometimes passers-by don’t even realize he is there until he moves”[2].

For me it is very interesting that Bolin is an artist and he uses photography as a recording and broadcasting method rather than photography for photography’s sake.  In other words his message is in the performance he has created.  The photograph is merely a convenient medium for recording and distribution.  It is clear that the message is the prime function of his work.

The question we then raise as a viewer is how much has his work moved on from the early days.  Yes the subject and message has changed but has his work progressed and developed.  Does this matter to us as the viewer.  Perhaps as an artist he does not want to because he is achieving what he wants to achieve through his body of work.

In these days of CGI it is interesting to note that Bolin still creates his images ‘manually’.  I am sure the same effect could be produced by post production software but I would suspect the impact of his message will be less.  It is that fact that he is in his images creating his messages give the greatest impact for me.

Therefore looking at Bolin’s work it has given me ideas as how the object can blend into the background but also gives me concerns I may be creating photography for photography’s sake rather than having a clear message like Bolin.  Something I need to ponder over.

A YouTube Video on Bolin and his work can be found here: Video

2) Desiree Palmen
Is a Dutch artist who produces images with a technique similar to that of Liu Bolin.  Her initial catalyst for producing such art was from the increasing use of “Big Brother” surveillance in that she says.

I’d like people to consider what it means to let the government control our daily lives.  When we are controlled we hand over our individual responsibilities to the state. I wanted to make a suit for the non-criminal citizen whose house is being watched 24 hours by street surveillance cameras. I’m also responding to a wish to disappear.” [3]

For me I like the theme she has chosen and has more possibilities than perhaps that of Bolin.  On observation I notice that the subjects in Palmen’s work are still camouflaged but perhaps not to the extent of that of Bolin.  I suspect that it is response that you cannot 100% hide in a surveillance based society.  No matter what you do you will inevitably be seen.

For me Palmen’s work added to what I have learnt from Bolin but did not move my though process for the Assignment along much further.


3) Holger Trülzsch & Vera Lehndorff
Holger Trülzsch is an artist and photographer who teamed up with Vera Lehndorff (Veruschka) a 1960’s fashion model and now artist in 1970. “they began to use her body as a canvas on which to create a new and startling art form. In their work, Vera Lehndorff’s body is denied its reality. It mimics another – a glamorous film star, a gun-toting gangster – chameleon-like it disappears into its surroundings, transformed into dead or decaying matter, sculpture, stones, trees”. [4]


4) Bence Bakonyi
In a body of work called Transform the Hungarian photographer Bence Bakonyi examines the theme of “is our environment forming our personality?” How much can you prescind from its medium examining the individual? The photographs of Transform can be considered to be a straightforward commitment besides the inseparability of the individual and the environment” [5]   This is done through a series of camouflage images similar to that of Liu Bolin and Desiree Palmen however the difference hear is that the subject is not totally hidden.  Bakonyi sees that we become inseparable from our environment but not engulfed by it hence we can still see ourselves but blend in accordingly.  A limited colour range in each picture also ensures that the subject is not swallowed as a whole by the frame and background and we are easily drawn to the subject.  Again as not being able to see the face of the subject they become very anonymous and therefore can represent anyone of us in our environment.

Transform 1 © Bence Bakonyi. Reproduced with kind permission of Bence Bakonyi

Transform 1 © Bence Bakonyi. Reproduced with kind permission of Bence Bakonyi


Transform 2 © Bence Bakonyi. Reproduced with kind permission of Bence Bakonyi


Transform 3 © Bence Bakonyi. Reproduced with kind permission of Bence Bakonyi


5) Jean-Paul Bourdier
Jean-Paul Bourdier is an American photographer and lecturer who has produced a number of images which the act of camouflaging the subject pays a part in his body of work entitled Bodyscapes


6) Filippo Ioco
Ioco is a body painting artist whose work has been used for commercial purposes.  A number of images use camouflage techniques similar to that of Bolin and Palmen.  What is interesting is that Ioco does not see the camouflage image as the end image in itself but just a means to an end.  In correspondence with him he stated “most of my camouflage images are really not intended as a full total camouflage but a slightly one. My concept has always been to showcase the beauty of the nude human body in my work“.

The following two images showcase what Ioco is saying.  Both depict the human body yet our norms of shape and colour are challenged as he takes it out of context.  For me I like Read Me 1 as we see and ‘read’ the whole image as a newspaper yet within the image the subject is reading a newspaper which is not disguised.  Also there are items in the image remain normal to our vision, the food,  the curlers etc. But actually it is these items that look out of place as if they should not be there.

PI 1

Read Me 1 © Filippo Ioco. Reproduced with kind permission of Filippo Ioco

PI 2

Colour in Motion 2 © Filippo Ioco. Reproduced with kind permission of Filippo Ioco


7) Art Wolfe
Art Wolfe is a conservationist and natural history photographer.  In this set of images entitled Vanishing Acts shows natural camouflage in nature.

In this first image shows clearly mimesis (disguising as something else) at work in nature: “the predatory orchid mantis mimics the shape and color of the pastel flower petals upon which it rests, complete with matching nectar guides on its abdomen. Masquerading as an orchid, the mantis utilizes both aspects of deception: camouflage to help catch prey, as well as camouflage to escape capture” [6]


Orchid Mantis, Sawarak, Malaysia © Art Wolfe. Reproduced with kind permission of Art Wolfe Inc.

This image shows crypsis (making yourself hard to see) at work in nature.  the owl has positioned itself in front of an object that resembles its own colouration.


Great Gray Owl, Oregon, USA © Art Wolfe. Reproduced with kind permission of Art Wolfe Inc.

Click here: Art Wolfe

8) Getty Stock Images
A number of images that uses camouflage as the theme where the objects are hidden in shape and colour.  I think that these images are similar to that I would like to produce and are practical to achieve and hopefully to too clichéd or obvious. Click here: Images


Initial Attempts
From the practitioner research above and some lessons learnt during assignment 4.4, I tried a number of differing techniques and differing objects.  My initial thoughts on subject could be

  • All white on white. Perhaps paint up food/items to take out the individuality to reduce their basic appeal so as they just become shapes rather than something we desire and crave.
  • Same colour objects on the same colour background. Perhaps wrapped items on same coloured background as the wrapping paper.  Perhaps flat lighting is then used to hide the objects even more.

1) High Key Images
Here I have created a number of high key images to make the image almost fade into the background.  By both playing with the initial light set up and then the final image exposure differing ways of camouflaging the image can be created.

1a) Towel
Based loosely on the influence of the images of Christian Coigny this subject was chosen because it was white on white and was lit by natural slightly diffused light from a window.  My expectation was that there would be little shadow within this white image and then through Lightroom settings it would produce a high key image.  What actually happened was that the camera recorded all the very subtle shadows within the material making the original a very effective black and white study.  When I tried to ‘high key’ the image in Lightroom it was not very successful.  Although there are no blown highlights the tonal range is very little because I have taken out the blacks and the whites effectively leaving an image of mid tones.  While it sort of achieves what I wanted the image becomes very uninteresting and is on the verge of looking like a poorly exposed picture.  I think that if I repeat this I need play with the original exposure (perhaps a couple of stops exposing into the shadows) rather than just relying on Lightroom to perfect the picture.

Basic Towel

Basic Towel

Basic Towel 2

High Key Towel

1b) Tomato
For this experimentation I tried to see if it were possible to take a subject that contrasts the background and see if it were possible to camouflage.  From what I had learnt from the Towel exercise I repeated this time by over exposing the image (taking the exposure point as the shadows) so everything would become lighter.  Again in Lightroom I lightened the exposure and washed out the shadows.  My view is that this is quite successful in that it gives an appearance as if the subject is in mist or fog, which itself is a great natural camouflage as it reduced the colours and we just see shape.  Again so the exposure is right there are no blown highlights but just a very small band of tones.


1c) Plate
Here I have tried a version of high key imagery in that it is a white object on a white background.  Similar to the tomato exercise this image was all about getting the exposure correct for the effect that I wanted.  Again the image range of tones was reduced using Lightroom.  A couple of points to note in that:

  • This image is actually in colour and not converted to black and white. The exposure and the Lightroom treatment has almost washed them out to give a very light sepia tone probably as a result of colour temperature issues in the original.
  • On closer inspection the depth of field is not sharp over the whole plate. The front is not sharp.  While this was not intentional it does in fact add to the feeling of camouflage as our eye is therefore drawn slowly out of the white ‘fog’ into the centre of the plate.


2 Crypsis Camouflage
Here I have tried a crypsis effect similar to the technique of the likes of Bolin and Palmen where I have tried to disguise an object against the background.  Ideally it would have been great to have the resources and time to create work like these practitioners however It is a case adapting the resources I have to hand.

2a) The Present
For this image I placed an object wrapped up in the same paper as the background.  The purpose here was twofold

  • Firstly to see if the subject could be hidden against the background it matched.
  • Secondly to see if by blending the present against the background whether we stopped seeing it as a present therefore stopped our curiosity of what was inside and started just to think of it as an object.

In the above points I would argue they are embryonically successful.  More work and experimentation would have to be done in order to develop this for the Assignment.

The Present

2b) Tomatoes
Here I have tried to see how a subject that matches the colour of the background would look.  Does something with a similar colour blend into the background? Here a lower key image was given to darken down the whole result for the shadows between the tomatoes to blend in with the shadows created by the placement of the lights.  Again the answer is a reserved yes but in a way was not really the result I was looking for to move ahead with the Assignment.



Lessons Learned and Next Steps
The good news is that I learnt from my research and practical experience there are many ways to camouflage the subject within an image.  That I feel gives me great scope to move ahead with the next stage.  However what is good news is also bad news in that I could end up trying to produce output based on too many techniques and never move forward.  Therefore of what I have produced so far I think I will ‘specialise’ around the technique used in producing The Present.   Clearly far more experimentation is required within this area but I like the results it produces as it makes us question what we are looking at rather than just appreciating a the results of a technical exercise of lighting and Lightroom.

I’m not sure yet if I have answers to my original question set at the start of this writing.  Further experimentation will hopefully determine if different colours, shapes and patterns change will move the discovery of the answers forward.

On a more practical side I see I have to be more precise in in the placement of the object, the way it is prepared for camouflaging (the lighting show up all my the imperfections due to my inability to wrap an object) and lighting which plays a key role is how we finally see the object.



[1] (nd) Camouflage; Your Dictionary  [Online]
http://www.yourdictionary.com/camouflage  [Last accessed 12 Oct 2015]

[2] Spooky (2009) Meet the Real Life Invisible Man; OddityCentral  [Online]
http://www.odditycentral.com/pics/meet-the-real-life-invisible-man.html  [Last accessed 12 Oct 2015]

[3] (2008) Spot the ‘invisible’ men and women in artist’s amazing photographs, The Mail Online [Online]
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-517634/Spot-invisible-men-women-artists-amazing-photographs.html  [Last accessed 12 Oct 2015]

[4] (nd) Trove, National Library of Australia [Online]
http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/8732152?selectedversion=NBD5308076  [Last accessed 12 Oct 2015]

[5] Frank, Márta Éva (2010) Bence Bakonyi website   [Online]
http://bencebakonyi.com/index.php?/projects/transform/  [Last accessed 12 Oct 2015]

[6] Wolfe, Art (nd) Vanishing Act, Art Wolfe Inc. [Online]
http://artwolfe.com/showcase/orchid-mantis-sawarak-malaysia  [Last accessed 15 Oct 2015]