Hide and Seek

Hide and Seek

Camouflage, Photography, and the Media of Reconnaissance

By Hanna Rose Shell

A history and theory of the drive to hide in plain sight.

Distributed for Zone Books





A history and theory of the drive to hide in plain sight.

Camouflage is an adaptive logic of escape from photographic representation. In Hide and Seek, Hanna Rose Shell traces the evolution of camouflage as it developed in counterpoint to technological advances in photography, innovations in warfare, and as-yet-unsolved mysteries of natural history. Today camouflage is commonly thought of as a textile pattern of interlocking greens and browns. But in Hide and Seek it reveals itself to be much more—a set of institutional structures, mixed-media art practices, and permutations of subjectivity, that emerged over the course of the twentieth century in environments increasingly mediated by photographic and cinematic intervention.

Through a series of fascinating case studies, Shell uncovers three conceptually linked species of photographic camouflage—the static, the serial, and the dynamic—and shows how each not only reflects the type of photographic reconnaissance it was meant to counter, but also contains aspects of the previously developed species. Hide and Seek develops its argument from the material forms camouflage has left behind: photomontages, paper blankets, stuffed rabbits, ghillie suits, and instructional films. Beginning with natural history and figurative art in the late nineteenth-century, continuing through the rise of aerial warfare in World War I, and onto the cinematic techniques designed to train snipers and civilians during World War II, this book is both a history and a theory of the drive to hide in plain sight.


$32.95 T | £28.00 ISBN: 9781935408222 240 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 16 color illus., 50 b&w illus.


  • There is much to enjoy in all four chapters and without doubt this book, detailing interrelationships of technological advances in photography and film and developments in camouflage media and camouflage consciousness, will live into the future as readers scrutinise it, evaluate it and take its useful and imaginative store of ideas in additional directions.

    Ann Elias

    History of Photography


  • Hanna Rose Shell's Hide and Seek stands apart from other recent writings on the significance of camouflage; at the same time, her book blends in seamlessly. While partly a book about military camouflage in relation to reconnaissance photography and film, it encompasses far, far more than that. Replete with surprising connections, it stands apart because of the author's unerring research, engaging prose, and the thoughtfulness and originality of her conclusions.

    Roy B. Behrens

    author of False Colors: Art Design and Modern Camouflage, and Camoupedia; contributer to DPM: An Encyclopedia of Camouflage

  • Hanna Rose Shell's Hide and Seek: Camouflage, Photography, and the Media of Reconnaissance is a highly original and imaginative piece of scholarship, written economically and compellingly. Drawing on evidence from the history of science, military history, art history, and the histories of photography and cinema, Shell gives us a developmental narrative and theoretical formulation of camouflage between the mid-nineteenth century and the present.

    Martin Jay

    Sidney Hellman Ehrman Professor of History, University of California, Berkeley

  • Funny, poetic, and scary by turns, Hide and Seek asserts it is not human vision that camouflage seeks to trick, but the gaze of the camera. The skin of emulsions, no less than the hides of humans and beasts, is ground for trickery and revelation in this remarkable book.

    Caroline A. Jones

    Professor of Art History and Director of the History, Theory, and Criticism Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • Vital conversations on the meaning of the gaze have dominated the past quarter century and more in visual culture studies. Now, shifting our focus from being to not being seen, Hanna Rose Shell newly formulates and explicates a history of efforts in camouflage from the military in World War I to video artists in the presents, and reveals a deep human desire to disappear. No reader will forget Hide and Seek's genealogy of the 'chameleonic impulse,' the longing both to construct and to project a worldly skin that makes one functionally invisible. Beautifully written, brilliantly argued, and vividly illustrated, Hide and Seek is a paradigm-altering book, and the anatomy of a new kind of consciousness.

    Laura Wexler

    Professor of American Studies and Women's Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and Director of the Photographic Memory Workshop, Yale University