The Archive of Camofleur

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16. Ellison, J. Milford [1909-1993]. Archive of Photographs Relating to a Camoufleur

Np: c. 1930’2-1940’s. Approximately 143 photographs, most mounted onto black paper- a few with captions – along with 15 other items of ephemera, including announcements for exhibitions, news articles, three items of correspondence and restricted army orders, all housed in four manila folders. A number of the photographs have fallen from their mounts, and the black paper the remainder are mounted onto is chipped and creased at extremities, but condition is otherwise generally very good.

 

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In a 1980 interview by Paul and Rita Kress which is hosted on the San Diego State University website, Ellison detailed his career as an artist. Ellison was born in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1909. He studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and the Chouinard Art School, and afterwards moved to California where he taught and exhibited in the seceding decades.

During WWII Ellison was drafted, but was excused as he was overweight. He saw an ad for a meeting about becoming a Camofleur in Los Angeles. In 1944 Ellison went over to England to do camouflage work in the field, including camouflaging eight fields in southern England prior to D Day. Subsequently Ellison was sent back to London where he was an an instructor in the mines and booby traps school. After four weeks Ellison was sent to France and Belgium, where he worked to camouflage fields and worked on paintings in his spare time, which culminated in a 1945 exhibition at the La Jolla Fine Arts Gallery and the La Jolla Museum of Art.

This collection consists of four folders, the bulk of which are taken up with photographs tipped onto blank album paper.  along with assorted ephemera from Ellison’s career, including orders. Approximately half the photographs pertain to the camouflage work, including photographs of camouflage in the field and the designing and manufacturing of camouflage, aerial views, photographs of restricted camouflage test areas.

The nature of camouflage is to elude recognition, making photography of them a paradoxical act. The photographs derive an odd and lasting power from the degree to which they deceive the viewer or not, or in the manner in which the facade of invisibility is constructed. The most confusing of the photographs are of a camouflage testing area, in which no camouflage seems apparent, even on close gaze, and the power resides in knowing the context –  that there is a camouflaged object within view.  To confuse the gaze further, some of the photographs are obviously model constructions, perhaps test dioramas which are eerily similar to doll houses.

An interesting chapter of the longer story of fine artists working in the field of Camouflage beginning with WWI – a distinguished lineage which included the surrealist Roland Penrose and numerous Australian artists. $2500

 

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B. Traven and the Flight of the Buchergilde Gutenberg from Germany

 

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20. Traven, B. Der Marsch ins Reich der Caoba. Zurich, Vienna, Prague: Buchergilde Gutenberg, 1933. First edition. 8vo, 254 pp, bound in full slate blue cloth with red blind-stamped titles. Printed dust jacket.

The first edition of the third book in the Mahogany series, and the first book published by the Buchergilde Gutenberg in exile following the seizure of the Berlin Press by the Nazis earlier in that year. This was the first Traven title from the press to bear a dust jacket, and it was a striking one, reproducing a chalk drawing attributed to “FUCK.”

This wasn’t necessarily a middle finger extended to the Nazi’s, but rather the name of the artist, Bruno Fuck – a pseudonym of Boris Angelushev, a Bulgarian artist whose work is featured on a number of socialist publications of the 30’s.

The book didn’t appear in English until the 1961 British edition, under the title March to Coabaland, reprinted in 1964 by Dell as March to Monteria. Treverton 705.

A fine copy in a striking, near fine example of the dust jacket, with several short marginal tears which have been neatly repaired at verso. Sold.

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The Book is the Weapon

[On the occasion of the launching of our new blog, we’re going to be reposting some essays from our old Spineless & Stapled blog. The following was originally published in March of 2012.]

  The Book is the Weapon

I’ve often been told that the pen (and by extension, the book) is mightier than the sword. But what if the book is the sword?

 

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Uwe Wandrey’s Kampfreime is a collection of rhymed chants meant for use during the German Student Movement. As far as my research can tell, it is also the first book to be designed as a weapon, and as such is a landmark in book design.

The book is small. It can be easily slipped into a protestor’s pocket. The chants are arranged thematically. The red card section dividers make it easy, presumably, to flip to the right chant even under the duress of a violent protest. The book takes full advantage of secrecy and random access – perhaps the two most historically useful aspects of the codex form.

The sharp fore edge of both of the the aluminum boards extend about a quarter of an inch past the fore edge of the text. The book elegantly solves the structural problems inherent in a metal binding in that the upper board is curved at a 90 degree angle at the spine, while the lower board lies flat and is buttressed against the inward curve of the upper. Thus the book lies flat, yet is easily opened.

What is less obvious, but perhaps even more brilliant about this design is that the curve of the upper board rests sturdily on the palm, and the lower board – which juts further out – is buttressed against the metal base. My theory is that this was done so that the metal boards can’t recoil backwards and cut into one’s palm if the book is used to strike an attacker.

Kampfreime had another use as well.

 

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The business end of a book was also intended to tear away posters, flyers, advertisements – to clear an open space in an encroaching universe of bourgeoisie paper. After all, one of the main targets of the student protest was the Axel Springer publishing house. It belongs in the same lineage as another brilliantly designed book which in many ways laid a framework for the ’68 protests – Guy Debord, Asger Jorn, and V.O. Permild’s psychogeographical masterpiece Memoires, which featured a sandpaper dust jacket to destroy any book it was shelved against.

The protests of ’68 escalated because of attacks upon, and killings of protesting students, beginning with the killing of Benno Ohnesorg by a policeman in ’67. Students held that Ohnesorg had been murdered. His name was recently in the news when a study by the German government discovered that the killing was probably premeditated. The cover-up extended as far as the hospital, where a doctor, acting on instructions from a superior, sewed Ohnesorg’s skin shut over the bullet hole in his head and ruled that the death was caused by blunt force.

As elegant as the design of Kampfreime is, it is difficult to imagine that it was ever of much practical use against a baton, or a gun. The lasting power of Kampfreime is as a metaphor. A talisman to protect the bearer and a text designed to destroy other texts. As such it is one of the most provocative and overlooked artist’s books of protest in the 20th century.

Wandrey, Uwe. Kampfreime. Handliche, Mit Scharfen Kanten Ausgestattete Kampfausgaube Fuer Die Phase Des Revolutionaueren Widerstands. Hamburg: Quer-Verlag, 1968. First edition. Oblong 16mo. Mimeographed in black on white paper, with red card section dividers. Stapled into red wraps, which are tipped into aluminum boards with red tape. Illustrated title pastedown to front panel. Binding slightly shaky, with some minor discoloration to the title pastedown and metal, but still near fine. No bloodstains to boards or text of this copy. Rare.

 

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