Unlike natural camouflage which strives to conceal rather than reveal, WWI Dazzle camouflage uses it’s high contrast patterns to confuse rather than disguise. Artists including Edward Wadsworth were instrumental in designing razzle-dazzle geometric patterns for warships in WWI. The idea was that any given dull grey or blue paint scheme would only serve to contrast and reveal a ship against the sea or sky. Therefore, instead of hiding, a baffling pattern would make it harder for U-boat optical rangefinders to get locked onto the target, while obfuscating the ship’s direction, especially when seen at oblique angles. Each pattern was unique, compounding the problem of ship class recognition. Enemies couldn’t be sure if they were attacking a frigate or a minesweeper. There is only limited evidence of dazzle’s effectiveness – even though it was eventually applied to over 3000 British and Americn vessels, what is certain its that was a huge morale boost for the crews on the ships, the dazzle camouflage serving as a form of tribal warpaint. Despite its mechanical appearance, regular Dazzle camouflage ‘has nothing to do with ‘machine vision.’ Machines are incapable of a state of mind like ‘dazzle’’ (Bruce Sterling. 2012. ‘An Essay on the New Aesthetic’. Wired, 2 April 2012.
Dazzle Camoufleurs in 1917, the Women’s Reserve Camouflage Corps (US) dazzling the USS Recruit (a wooden naval recruitment and training building resembling and operating as a battleship) in Union Square, NYC, 1917