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Entries in camouflage (3)

Tuesday
Jun202017

sniper camo

Turkish sniper captured during the Gallipoli Campaign of WWI

Lightweight BDU Ghillie Suit $ 269.99 at Ghillie Suit DepotAnd on it goes. 

I sense a fashion moment coming on.

Monday
Jun192017

camouflage for mummers

Nigel Goldsmith, photography www.nigelgoldsmith.co.uk. The history of the Marshfield Mummers goes back more than two hundred years. The Mummers themselves are played by men local to the area, their identity is concealed by a costume made from torn strips of newspaper and cloth.

This is a case of ‘looks like, but is not like’.  The morphology of camouflage, at root about invisibility or confusing identity, shoots off in many directions sometimes to arrive at the same solution.  The centuries-old  English tradition of mummering is a Christmas event where men don costumes to mask their identity and perform plays or dances for food and drink.  It is not unlike Hallowe’en trick or treating – the extraction of goodies from people who normally wouldn’t give you the time of day – in England it was about class: villagers targetting the big house, for whom most of them worked but about which they were unable to express any feelings.  In disguise one can say and do anything: the true subversive purpose of carnival.

In England mummering appears to be safely encapsulated in the world of folk tradition, re-enactments of old, defunct practices.  In Newfoundland, it never went away. With various degrees of lewdness, men dress up as women with pillow cases on their heads to disguise their identity and travel about in gangs extracting food and drink from householders.  

The Marshfield Mummers, in the Cotswalds, make their costumes out of newspaper and have a parade and a performance on Boxing Day.  Originally a play was performed throughout the twelve days of Christmas, but this practice died out in the 1880s.  It was resurrected in 1930, just before the last of the aged mummers took their knowledge of the play with them.  In this particular village the play was revived and disguise used newspapers; the mummers were known as The Old Time Paperboys.  Mummering pre-dates newspaper; at the beginning of the Depression in the 1930s newspaper might have been the most accessible material to make a costume out of; soon newspapers will be a rare and eccentric fabric for costume-making.

 

North Waltham Mummers, Hampshire, c. 1949 (Photographer: Douglas Dickins)There are several layers here: the original nineteenth-century practice, the revival practice from the 1930s, and how it has evolved, or not, to today.  When does something become folkloric, rather than folk?  This question arises with any folk revival. It was asked in the 1960s when folk songs swept through universities of middle-class soon-to-be professionals.  Bob Dylan moved on, Woody Guthrie didn’t. The rise of the kind of recent populism we are seeing is based on iconic folk traditions: the coal miner, the family farm, the factory worker as un-evolved specimens of a better time.  In the 1960s folk music looked to the Depression, to depressed Appalachia, to earlier struggles, so hopeless that all one could do is to sing to lighten a heavy load.  None of these iconic moments appear to be prosperous: that doesn’t make folk memory, rather it is hardship that is valourised in the revivals.

Mummering was performed by men with almost no means using high holidays such as Christmas to get a bit extra.  That it was entertaining at the same time was a kind of insurance that relations between those who have and those without will not tip over into revolution.  Folk songs were full of coded messages under the cover of entertainment. If the messages weren’t for you (underground railway instructions for example) you didn’t see them.  There is subversion, always, in folk practice, something that folk revivals cannot capture.

Sunday
Jun182017

the ghili suit of the Iranian Army

Camouflaged Iranian Army soldiers march during a parade in Tehran. Photograph: Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA

This remarkable image from the Army Day Parade in Teheran on April 18th, and many more like it spread around the web, shows a particular kind of Iranian Army camouflage called a ghili suit.  It appears to come in a range of colours, from white to charcoal, and clearly acts much like the dazzle camouflage on WWI ships where the shape of the body (of the ship, or the soldier) is rendered diffuse, directionless, completely indistinct. This seems quite different from the flat camouflage patterns of western armies which rely on colour and a general blurriness within the clear outline of the body.  

Checking on the history of the ghili suit, it is well known in hunting circles, originally made of burlap and used by ghillies to catch poachers. British snipers wore them in WWI. The Iranian Army wear their suits with gaiters, as do Highland marching pipe bands, another curious reference to some sort of Edwardian Hibernia.

Further checking reveals a great number of war games sites with instructions on how to make your own ghillie (the northern European term; ghili, the Persian spellilng) suit, such as this one:


From GhillieTreff.de, clearly a ghillie enthusiast whose aim is total invisibilityEasy to mock, as do many of the sites that show the Iranian ghili suits on parade, but it is war, in Iran, not a war game.  This is extreme garb, so environmentally sensitive to shadow and light, shrubs and glare – a sensitivity upon which one’s life depends.  This isn’t a uniform proclaiming identity, rather its absence.