Imagine a world wherein the people who wrote history books were artists, the books occasionally read like poetry, and the stories in them ranged from Monty Python skits to the natural history of chameleons to the making of classic sniper films. Pick up Hanna Rose Shell
's new book, and you can imagine (for a few hours, at least) that you've stepped into such a world. Hide and Seek: Camouflage, Photography, and the Media of Reconnaissance
is a history of the visual and material practices of strategic concealment between the first publication of the Origin of Species
and the end of WWII. Shell has structured the book around three historically and conceptually linked stages in the history of camouflage: static, serial, and dynamic. Each stage comes to us full of fascinating characters, from Abbott Thayer with his painted potatoes to Len Lye with his filmic tattoos of dancing color. The text is a fabric of words and images, interweaving reproductions of the photos and stencils and taxidermied creatures of Shell's historical actors with her own work as a visual artist. There are tattoos. There are feather paintings. There is an overcoat owned by William James and there are aerial reconnaissance photos. This is an electric and surprising world, and one that is well worth visiting in the pages of Shell's book.