Caught Our Eyes: In the Eye Wear of the Beholder

The Caught Our Eyes sharing wall.

The Caught Our Eyes sharing wall. Photo by P&P staff, 2018 Feb.

Digital Library Specialist Pete Richey spotted this intriguing photograph from the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection and added it to our “Caught Our Eyes” wall, where staff share pictorial “finds” from Prints & Photographs Division collections.

“When I first saw this photograph it piqued my interest. At first glance this photograph could either be a still from a sci-fi film or a fashion ad. Upon further research it turned out to be neither,” he noted.

The latest in eye shields--for desert warfare. A shortage of non-inflammable celluloid has prompted the Union of South Africa government to utilize old photographic negatives to make eye shields needed for use in desert warfare. The original images in the shield can be seen by turning the picture upside down. The emulsion is washed off the negatives to make the shields transparent. More than a million such shields have been produced to protect United Nations soldier's eyes from wind, sand and dust. Margaret Bucci of Washington, D.C., demonstrated the shield. Photo by Office of War Information, 1943 March. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c39530

The latest in eye shields–for desert warfare. A shortage of non-inflammable celluloid has prompted the Union of South Africa government to utilize old photographic negatives to make eye shields needed for use in desert warfare. The original images in the shield can be seen by turning the picture upside down. The emulsion is washed off the negatives to make the shields transparent. More than a million such shields have been produced to protect United Nations soldier’s eyes from wind, sand and dust. Margaret Bucci of Washington, D.C., demonstrated the shield. Photo by Office of War Information, 1943 March. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c39530

The lengthy caption clued us both in to just what hidden depths the picture contains.

First, the eye shields represent an interesting case of adaptive reuse during a celluloid-strapped period during World War II. As a substitute for new celluloid, the Union of South Africa government started using old photographic negatives to make eye shields needed to protect soldiers engaged in desert warfare.

The caption also tipped us off to the fact that what may look like elegant swirls in the dark glasses is actually the lingering image in the negative from which they were created. Guided by the instructions, we captured just the portion of the picture that shows those seemingly psychedelic glasses.

Focusing on the eye wear...

Focusing on the eye wear…

Then we flipped it, just beginning to see an image emerge…

Detail of The latest in eye shields...

Detail of The latest in eye shields….

Then we changed the polarity, so that light areas appear dark and dark areas appear light. Voila! A group photograph of smartly dressed soldiers appears.

Detail of The latest in eye shields... with polarity reversed.

Detail of The latest in eye shields… with polarity reversed.

Pete remarked that the photo signaled an “ingenious way of using available resources during WWII, not to mention making for an unusual and captivating photo!”

We’re so glad Pete’s eye for a good picture led us to this photo, with its many layers of visual significance.

Learn More

  • Several World War II propaganda and information agencies (and their picture files) were consolidated in the Office of War Information. Read more about the succession of agencies involved in producing the photographs found in the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection.
  • View FSA/OWI photos showing various types of protective eye wear in use during World War II, including goggles and gear worn for welding.
  • Sample other images relating to desert warfare during World War II.
  • Glance back through the variety of pictures highlighted in our “Caught Our Eyes” posts.

3 Comments

  1. Carmen Skrine
    July 18, 2018 at 12:36 pm

    Interesting story

  2. Zal Lazkovich
    July 18, 2018 at 11:06 pm

    Amazing! It shows how with a little thinking and creativity many everyday items can be transformed into something more useful.

  3. msd
    July 22, 2018 at 9:14 am

    Fascinating and quite surreal but also, the sight of those lost faces on the old negative is emotionally touching.

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