Julius von Bismarck created the first prototype of the Image Fulgurator in 2009. This piece of equipment was made by modifying an old Minolta SLR camera. This hacked camera does not operate as a normal camera. It doesn’t even talk photographs. In fact, it functions as a projection device to disturb other people’s photographs. von Bismarck’s adjusted camera is stealthy. It fires an image through the lens and projects it onto a surface such as a wall or a man’s shirt. This projection remains invisible until someone takes a photo of that same surface with their camera’s flash. This is done through the flash sensor that von Bismarck installed on the top of the Fulgurator. This flash sensor is much more advanced than those you might find in a digital camera. Common sensors release pre-flashes to combat red eye or to help focus the image. von Bismarck’s sensor does not release pre-flashes and is programmed to ignore all slave flashes on the photographers’ cameras who will capture the projection. This is the beauty of the Fulgurator’s firing. The device will not shoot its projection until the precise moment that the camera flashes keeping it invisible to the naked eye. Photographers will see this image only once their photo has been taken and the moment has passed. von Bismarck modeled his custom circuitry for the sensor based off of the Arduino platform and eventually programmed his own software for later models. Charlie Sorrel of Wired explains how the rest of the apparatus works:
“At its simplest, the Fulgurator is a very easy hack. A hole has been cut in the back of the camera and a piece of clear, roughened acrylic put in its place. A rear tube allows the flashgun to slide in. Everything else remains intact. The slides themselves are just rolls of processed film (the pictures are snapped from Julius’ computer monitor) returned to their canisters and then loaded up as if a normal film. Any image on the reel can be selected by turning the rewind crank. When you hold the Fulgurator up, you can see the subject on the acrylic screen and line it with the image on the slide. You can also focus, to ensure the final projection ends up sharp.” Sorrel, Mark (2008, Jun. 27) The Brains Behind The Image Fulgurator
Photos via Wired
When the Fulgurator was first created, von Bismarck was quick to take legal action and patent it. The artist wasn’t so much concerned with creative imitations as he was with marketing messages. von Bismarck considers the work a piece of media art and simultaneously believes it could destruct our media through unsolicited ads placed on our photography. The artist purposefully designed the work to model a gun to help drive the seriousness of its use. Despite the work being ideal for pranks, it has the capacity to create critical content. Image Fulgurator has created iconic photos such as the projection of the Magritte’s dove onto a portrait of Chairman Mao in China and “NO” onto the backdrop of the Pope’s administering mass. von Bismarck says of his work:
“People’s great trust in their photographic reproductions of reality was what motivated me to develop the Image Fulgurator. A camera can be used as a personal memory tool, since people do not doubt the veracity of their own photographs. Hence, photos can reproduce the reality of an individual environment or public space. In other words, with the Fulgurator it is possible to have a lasting effect on those kinds of individual moments and events that become accessible to the masses only because they are preserved photographically.” Digital Klasse, Berlin University of the Art, Image Fulgurator: Sommersemester 2007
Although von Bismarck successfully patented his design, the device has still been copied by many companies. This shows how innovative and desirable his device is, yet also causes some alarm. The ideas that von Bismarck himself brought to the forefront about big business messages is obviously the first that comes to mind. These projection “guns” haven’t seemed to catch on so much that the public finds them in their personal photos, but that doesn’t mean it’s not in the works. One would guess that corporations are shelling out big bucks to transform Image Fulgurator technology to cellphone capabilities for both the projection and the photo capture. With the rapid rate of technological development, we can only assume that these devices will be capable of projecting the image without the flash at some point in the near future. von Bismarck’s flash graffiti is simple, elegant, and powerful. His designs and subject matter are thoughtful. The device creates infinite possibilities for placement, but let’s just hope the use of this technology stays critical opposed to commercial for as long as possible.
von Bismarck has a knack for creating technology that can be used to generate artwork. The artist also received critical acclaim for creating the Perpetual Storytelling Apparatus. This work that he created in collaboration with Benjamin Maus in 2008 was fueled by the desire to create an idea generator. The pair programmed a machine they built to find connections between U.S. patents. They grounded their work in the “six degrees of separation theory.” All U.S. patents have references, which the artists used to connect patents to one another. By prompting the machine with a patent or reference word, the machine would shuffle through the catalogue of seven million patents and connect different inventions through the 22 million reference words that are cited. The machine functions as a technical drawing machine and draws the illustrations associated with the patents it is connecting. The drawings can generate both rich and inconsequential connections that can be used to brainstorm and think through new ideas. von Bismarck’s work seems fueled by forming new ways of thinking and contextualization. This work is quite similar to the Image Fulgurator in the fact that it appropriates another’s craft and places it in a new framework. What is drastically different about this work is its generative nature. Perpetual Storytelling Apparatus can perpetually draw connections after its assembly with no further input. On the other hand, Image Fulgurator is dependent on the input on not only von Bismarck through new images and projections, but also through the subsequent action of bystanders. Its creations do not come to full form without the input of another’s camera and flash. Image Fulgurator is fueled by outside sources and civic response. Thus, it is embedded with a public nature. Perpetual Storytelling Apparatus is also public by nature considering its public catalogue. Yet, its connections are literal and machine-made, which leave people independent of its primary output.
Remediation of images through generative art is a common practice for contemporary artists. Casey Reas is arguably one of the most well-known and influential generative artists who have mastered the algorithmic art of remediation. His AYFABTU (Followers) series brings forth many of the same questions that von Bismarck’s Image Fulgurator has. Reas created a generative and collaged portrait of his Twitter followers. The artist fed the images through an algorithm that pixelated and distorted the profile images of his followers and then added portions of each picture to the portrait over time. Despite the images being unrecognizable from their original form, Reas’ work creates a dialogue about ownership and connections. Does the artist have the right to use the images of his followers because they follow him? Does the artist have the right to use the images because they are made public on the web? von Bismarck’s work creates a parallel conversation about ownership. Can the artist claim the “bombed” photos as his own? Does he need to cite the work as a collaboration or other with the photographer who captured his projection? Despite their drastically different approaches, the two artists succeed in developing work about image rights in our contemporary, digital landscape.
- Image Fulgurator won the Golden Nica at Ars Electronica in 200