German inventor Julius von Bismarck refers to his potentially very disruptive brainchild as an “image fulgarator.” The verb, “fulgurate,” means, “to flash or dart like lightening.” According to Herr von Bismarck, himself, it works like this:

Technically, the Image Fulgurator works like a classical camera, though in reverse. In a normal camera, the light reflected from an object is projected via the lens onto the film. In the Image Fulgurator, this process is exactly the opposite: instead of an unexposed film, an exposed and developed roll of slide film is loaded into the camera and behind it, a flash. When the flash goes off, the image is projected from the film via the lens onto the object.

Due to the similarity of the two processes, the Fulgurator looks like a conventional reflex camera. As soon as the built-in sensor registers a flash somewhere nearby, the flash projection is triggered. Hence the projection can be synchronized to the exact moment of exposure of all other cameras in its immediate vicinity. Via a screen (ground glass), it is possible to focus the projection and to position it on the targeted object.

The upshot? Graffiti visible only in photographs. Uppermost, for example, a dove superimposed on an unsuspecting tourist’s photograph of Mao’s portrait in Tiananmen square. If the guard could see it, no doubt he’d be upset, but the image appears for only the instant required to expose nearby photographs. [Thanks, Alan Dove!]

Update: If you’ve been reading long enough to recognize that we’ve posted about the image fulgurator before, first of all: Thank you! Second, apologies for the duplicate post. Third, if you’d like to read that previous coverage, it’s all linked, below. Cheers! -SMR

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Sean Michael Ragan

Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and makezine.com. My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c’t – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.


  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BHHE4CZWIJRIBL2S2EEMGYL4MI John

    First, you posted this a couple of years ago and got a harsh reaction then.

    Second, what gives this sub-human garbage the right to ruin people’s once in a lifetime photos?  His victim might spend thousands of dollars visiting a cultural site half a world away and this ass looking for kicks wants to ruin their pictures?

    I know Make likes to be overly political which is why I no longer subscribe since the remake america edition, but to promote wanton vandalism of other people’s creative efforts seems to violate everything you claim to believe in. Or is Make just a bunch of hypocrites who like to stir the pot to be shit disturbers for shit’s sake?

    Third, if you use a decent SLR camera with a rear-curtain flash sync, your camera should miss this mental microbe’s attempts to ruin your picture.

    • http://www.seanmichaelragan.com Sean Michael Ragan

      Yup, nope, nope, and yup. Sorry for the dupe, folks.

    • http://smragan.com Sean Michael Ragan

      Yup, nope, nope, and yup.  Sorry for the dupe, folks!

    • johngineer

      In the modern digital age, a photographer will see almost immediately that their shot has been “ruined”, and will eventually figure out why (especially if they’ve read this post or one like it — a nice side-effect of the “pot-stirring” or whatever).

      The best way to defeat this would be to use a pre-flash (which most auto flash exposure systems do anyway). The pre-flash will set the unit off and when the “real” picture is taken the “fulgarator” will not yet have been recharged.

    • http://vrandy.myopenid.com/ VRAndy

      I don’t see how posting this is “hypocritical”.  As far as I can see it’s ALWAYS been the Make Blog’s policy to tell us about clever creations regardless of how they’re used.

      And to be honest, some of us prefer that. I would hate to miss learning about an interesting idea because an editorial judgement was made that Make shouldn’t “promote” what it was being used for.

      A while back there was an article that featured a cleverly disguised prison shiv, surely you didn’t think that the Make Blog was promoting murder?

      It’s OK to learn about things you aren’t going to exactly duplicate.

      (Personally, I was just recently thinking, having seen the original article a few months ago, that this sort of trick would be an excellent gimmick for one of those seasonal “haunted house” amusement places.)

    • Anonymous

      I agree that this is a douche move to do to other people’s pictures, but I think this concept can be used creatively for your OWN pictures.  Just like many things, you can use this for good or evil – hopefully people that make these things will use some discretion as to when to use this.

    • Anonymous

      Please do not use profanity in your posts or they will be removed. You can get your point across with it and without namecalling. Thanks.

    • Frank Canaan

      Wow John. Get a life. Its a clever idea. Leave it at that. Go wave your giant bad attitude flag somewhere else.

    • Anonymous

      “I see it as a piece of media art. It could be a dangerous attack on
      media. [But] if people do shit with it, I feel bad.” – Julius von
      Bismarck

      First, if you actually go to von Bismarck’s site, you can see video of him and a
      video crew at Checkpoint Charlie letting photographers know what he was
      doing and why these images were showing up in their photos.

      Second, I would also point out that he has had a patent pending on this since
      2007 and he patented it specifically to protect it from becoming a tool
      of douchebaggery. Since you haven’t seen an explosion of this type of photobombing used commercially in the last 4 years, I’d say it’s likely he hasn’t sold the patent.

      Third, there are plenty of ‘decent’ SLRs out there that lack rear-curtain flash sync, and even on a capable camera this could still interfere with your image enough to ruin that ‘once in a lifetime photo’ even if your camera does not completely capture the image projected by the fulgurator.

    • http://twitter.com/bgrantb Benjamin Betteridge

      It’s a great practical (harmless) joke, thankyou make mag. for sharing

  • Eric Nolan

    There are a number of locations where flash photography is forbidden.  Often to allow people to experience something without a constant strobe of flash photographs.  This device could be used to ruin any photograph taken in such a place thereby reducing the amount of people breaking the rules.  Used in this way the device is more like a phone jammer, useful in certain circumstances but very open to abuse.

    • http://vrandy.myopenid.com/ VRAndy

      This sort of what I imagine that illustration is supposed to show.  Imagine all the idiots that use flash photography in art galleries got home and saw “Copyright 2011, So-And-So Artist, Prints available at So-And-So-Artist-Prints.Com” on all their photos.  

      I guess it doesn’t stop them from taking photos, but maybe they’ll be wiser next time.

    • Anonymous

      If flash photography is forbidden then using this device is forbidden.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3CDNBE3SHJO3GKA2M66V4PXZGA First L

    What’s worse is that this invention will not likely advance any political or social cause, but if inspectors from an authoritarian regime search through the photographs of an unsuspecting apolitical bystander, the bystander may be jailed or worse if this invention projects an anti-establishment message.  Imagine how many innocent photographers in the USA could be set up to be prosecuted for possession of child porn, if that’s what the operator of this machine intends.

    I applaud the creativity, skill, and intelligence that went into developing this device, but only to the same degree I would applaud researchers of germ warfare.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3HQYFSFLDPJ2S5E2R6M3XTJDYQ Steve

    Consider the additional possibilities you’d get if you had the ability to change the image.. using two cameras or by switching the part containing the words. You could do magic or seance things or have “WINNER” or “LOSER” appear over people’s heads

  • Peter Simpson

    Wouldn’t this only affect others’ photos if the fulgurator and  camera shutters fired simultaneously? Or has the shutter been removed from the fulgurator camera? Would only work if the other camera used its flash, of course, and that’s unlikely in Tiananmen Square during daylight hours, I would think.

  • Anonymous

    Its use to vandalize others pictures is a bad idea. If you don’t like
    the pictures your fellow humans take then tell them so or keep it to yourself. Don’t be a
    coward.

    As an artistic tool it may have some merit.