Image Fulgurator

The image of Japanese tourists posing with their friends, flashing peace signs in front of national monuments, Schloss Neuschwanstein, Arc de Triomphe, the Great Pyramid, Ground Zero, etc, is a long standing cultural phenomenon, which has yet to be understood beyond the shores of the Land of the Rising Sun. More recently, since the rise of the cell phone camera, raised lighters romantically oscillating at concerts have been replaced by the blitz of hundreds of mobile devices, trying to capture the perfect memento of a live performance. 
What fans end up doing with the mostly abstract blobs of light they go home with also eludes me. – by Michael Ladner

There is a new device, however, that can transform these entirely banal snapshots into politically charged documents, brand signage or slapstick realist humor: the Image Fulgurator. Berlin-based artist Julius von Bismarck has constructed a photographic device, which instead of reproducing the reality in front of the lens, hacks into surrounding peoples’ flash cameras, and inserts prescribed content (image, symbol or text) directly onto their photos. All you need to do is point the Fulgurator – fulguration is the act or process of flashing like lightning – at an object that others nearby are photographing and the data is then superimposed onto their images. This process all goes unnoticed by the innocent bystander with a point-and-shoot; it is invisible to the human eye. The element of realist humor comes into play when they look at their image display: WTF is this phantom logo? Where did this text come from? Such reactions can be viewed on Julius’ website in a YouTube instructional video. 

Von Bismarck’s experiments with his invention include smuggling Magritte’s dove onto Mao’s portrait in Tiananmen Square, beaming the cell-phone service provider O2’s logo onto Berlin’s mayor, Klaus Wowereit, and projecting a cross onto Obama’s podium during his celebrity appearance in Berlin in summer 2008. He also edited the text on the famous sign at Checkpoint Charlie: “YOU ARE ENTERING THE AMERICAN SECTOR”. Von Bismarck’s manipulation reads: “hundreds of people die at the boarder between Mexico and the USA”. 

Whether heavy-handed sabotage or a just funny prank, the Fulgurator’s manipulations are always stimulating. And the idea of enhancing strangers’ pictures unbeknownst to them is just fucking cool. Hats off to Julius von Bismarck! And tourists beware, be open; you think photography insures objective reproduction, but you never know what can just show up.    ◊


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