Overt Camouflage

Posted by Bradley L. Garrett on Friday Mar 13, 2009 Under Urban Exploration, Visual Ethnography

Yesterday, I was invited by LutEx and Hydra to explore some World War II air raid shelters near London. The experience of being in shelters invoked a lot of new feelings for me, being American and never knowing what it would feel like to have your city bombed. Although we have many cold war shelters throughout the United States, these shelters were a precautionary measure, likely never to be used.

The shelters we went to yesterday, on the other hand, were inhabited by people who had left simple, isolated artifacts in these generally empty shelters, small reminders of the hidden history of this spectacularized city. A can of something evaporated, stone benches lining the walls, a few pots and pans, now surrounded by newly forming stalactites and stalagmites of minerals dripping in from the rainy city above.

Most interesting for me was Lutex’s technique for entering the shelters though manholes in the middle of the street, which he called overt camouflage. The idea basically is that is you look like you belong there, people will assume you do. I have seen similar techniques used by street artists that a fellow student at Royal Holloway, Luke Dickens, has been studying.

Lutex mystified me with his calm, organized and rational approach to the concept. He pulled his car up to the curb, coned off the area, adorned himself with a high visibility vest and proceeded to tape of the cones to keep pedestrians out and give the site the look of a public project. He then produced two keys which we fit into the manhole, lifted it up and voila! 60 years of history is ours to experience.

I am interested in other ways overt camouflage could be used but also had another thought about this idea. Basically, this only works if you have the appearance of someone who ‘belongs’ there. This means that people with body jewellery, tattoos, even dreadlocks would become more suspect immediately.

Which leads me to suggest that the real revolutionaries may not be the kids with purple mohawks, but the people who look quite normal but work to resist the complacency of modernity in their thoughts, word and actions in very subtle ways.

Here is the video from the explore (a little present for LutEx and Hydra):

http://www.vimeo.com/4337442

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