Add your own images to other people’s photos with the Image Fulgurator

Craft & Design
Add your own images to other people’s photos with the Image Fulgurator

The “Image Fulgurator” by Berlin-based artist Julius von Bismarck (which recently picked up a Golden NICA at this year’s Ars Electronica Festival) is a device that physically manipulates photographs by implanting messages onto the object being photographed. The device senses if a camera’s flash goes off and synchronizes a projection on the object being photographed at the same time. The result, as can be seen in the video on the site, is that tourists and others taking photos end up having bizarre images mapped onto their photos. Check out the details on how it works at the link below, and there’s even info about his patent application for the gadget.

Image Fulgurator, [via]

56 thoughts on “Add your own images to other people’s photos with the Image Fulgurator

  1. Nick says:

    Cool project, really just a portable enlarger with flash sync.

    I would be really pissed if I was shooting film though, and found this after developing.

    And from the website:

    ” Docu – Video
    The projection of the image Fulgurators an old Grenzschild at Checkpoint Charlie, is a link from the old border between East and West to the current border between the U.S. and Mexico.”

    I’m not sure I agree with equating East/West Germany and U.S./Mexico. The Jews were escaping religious persecution while people emmigrating from mexico are escaping lower wages.

  2. Ann On says:

    I try to be good about not feeding political trolls, however, this one is kind of sad, so I feel an overwhelming need to enlighten them.

    I would suggest the poster have a quick re-read of the history of Checkpoint Charlie. The people passing through Checkpoint Charlie were overwhelmingly not Jewish. There’s a good reason for that, I wonder if he/she can figure out what that is.

  3. The Oracle says:

    So, you go on the vacation of a lifetime, shoot lots of pictures (possibly on film so you don’t get to preview them). Then when you get home to view these pictures you’ll never have an opportunity to reshoot because you’ll never be able to afford another trip there, you find some vandal has ruined them for you.


    Why are we giving exposure to this garbage?

  4. Anonymous says:

    booo hoo


  5. Don says:

    This is from the site:

    “The high confidence of the people in their photographic images of reality was the main motivation for developing the image Fulgurators.”

    That’s a little funny because the camera *IS* actually accurately capturing that really *WAS* there!

    (Or maybe it’s just a little lost in translation.)

  6. The Oracle says:

    Don, well put. Just shows the mentality (or lack thereof) of those who created this.

    Stupid people doing something stupid and coming up with stupid justifications.

  7. J. Quimbaum says:

    This is awesome! I can’t believe so many people are hating it. People get all excited about “LED throwies” but they think this is stupid!? Makes no sense. I will build this and use it at halloween to shoot a variety of ghosts into flickr.

  8. The Oracle says:

    What are you talking about, Quimbaum? If you want to do LED projections/pictures. There are great ways. From the link, the point of this is “The change will be for him only in retrospect visible in the photo.” It exists only to destroy people’s pictures.

    This exists for no other reason that to make life miserable for people. That’s the stated purpose, that’s what it does, and the creators brag about it.

    So, given that they even brag that that’s why it exists, why don’t we have a nice Maker discussion about it. Anyone want to give a reason why using technology to make random strangers miserable for no reason is a good thing?

    Years ago, I read about some people who lived in Italy who would go to famous spots like the Collesseum, and offer to take pictures of the tourists, and then deliberately cut off the heads. That was in the pre-digital days when the victims had no way of knowing. And these people posted laughing about ruining people’s once-in-a-lifetime shots and they wouldn’t even know until they got home. Digital cameras have put them out of business, but here’s a nice new way to do it.

  9. jbc says:

    You are called “The Oracle”, don’t you think it’s a bit hypocritical to bad mouth something that you deem as “subversive” – which I don’t really see in this project (believe me there are lots of worse ways to interfere with someone’s photographs) when you are doing it yourself by not identifying yourself? Unmask the Oracle!

  10. Phillip Torrone says:

    i think this is an interesting art project which will generate a lot of discussion (like it is here) — just keep it civil, leave out any name calling and discuss away!

  11. Horselover Fat says:

    This is vandalism.

    Between this and the ‘perform self-surgery to make elf ears’ post a little while ago, well…no comment.

    I think this site and magazine is better served without posting vandalism art projects with the pretentious musings of said “artiste.” To each his own, of course, but I’ll continue reading this blog on occasion but as I can tell this magazine isnt worth subscribing for me. Shame this ‘make movement’ is being marginalized by the “lets make a stupid political statement” set.

  12. Simon says:

    I wonder how long it is before the big corporations latch onto this idea. Imagine going to Disneyland, taking loads of pictures then getting them developed to find ‘Copyright Disney 2008’ all over them :)

    As has been mentioned the instant gratification you get from digital cameras these days means this isn’t really much of an issue I imagine.

    This is just your average interesting technical idea turned into an ‘art’ project with some typically waffley arty words as justification.

    Interesting, but is it art?

  13. Tiedyepie says:

    It’s worth noting that the affected snapshots are far from destroyed. In the example video, the sign was less defaced than if it had been tagged conventionally, which probably wouldn’t have been enough to stop anyone from taking a snapshot anyway.

    Now is there anyone else impressed by the simplicity of this enough to wonder why nobody thought of it before?

  14. The Oracle says:

    Once again, the stated goal is to ruin people’s photos, this is what they claim, so what is jbc thinking when he says he “doesn’t think” that’s what it’s about. The creators designed it for that goal.

    Tiedyepie, it’s something added to people’s pictures which they wouldn’t want there. Whether it’s destroyed or just diminished is hardly the point. I was fairly heavy into photography. I’ve spent hours setting up a shot on $10k+ worth of equipment. But I guess a little blemish like this shouldn’t matter. And why should some tourist with a P&S camera deserve any less respect.

    Less defaced just sounds so stupid. It’s still defaced.

  15. Phillip Torrone says:

    i think simon said something really interesting

    “I wonder how long it is before the big corporations latch onto this idea. Imagine going to Disneyland, taking loads of pictures then getting them developed to find ‘Copyright Disney 2008’ all over them”

    when projects like this hit our radar we’re not just posting these for our amusement, and while it’s easy to say “i hate that, i hate make, i won’t subscribe” the *real* reason we post things like this is to talk about art, science and some of the ramifications of something like this.

    it’s smart to watch to hackers, artists (even the ones you don’t agree with) — what they’re doing now might be what disney or governments or everyone else soon.

    @The Oracle, i know you don’t like projects like this but i’d like to suggest that there’s more to it than a reaction — there are a lot of interesting things to discuss besides what this artist says they’re doing.

    personally, i’d like to have one of these so when someone takes a photo of me i can embed a message of my choosing, that seems fair right?

  16. gschoppe says:

    I’m of two minds about this post…

    One half of me applauds the ingenuity of the device, and sees possible valid applications. I think this would be an interesting addition to private buildings where flash photography is a problem. For example, in the Louvre, flash photography could lead to early degradation of the art… knowing that your photos would be branded in a very jarring manner (a random pixel field covering most art, except Mondrian’s, which would be covered by a print of the Mona Lisa) would discourage the offenders better than any sign could.

    I could also see novelty uses. Imagine a city-wide scavenger hunt where only the players see the clues, and have proof of their visiting the sites at the same time. How about an art installation that is visible only to the camera.

    I also see several invalid uses… Imagine setting these up at press conferences, destroying the Press’ ability to document events without subversive messages. What about using such a device to scrawl racial slurs across images of the million man march. Do we need someone inserting goatse or tubgirl into our vacation photos. Frankly, some uses would be downright criminal, and the project seems to lean towards a usage I highly frown upon. The video shows a deep lack of judgment on the part of the maker.

    That’s where the other half of my mind comes in. I would never approve of Make posting plans for a nuclear weapon, or details of a zero day exploit in flexteller. I would not approve of anyone posting an exploit to Disney’s Toontown that allowed the user (think: pedophile) to listen to or talk to anyone in the supposedly kid-safe game. (there was one, it has been patched) This is a “slippery slope”, as many politicians are fond of saying. I’d have to say that you came down on the correct side by posting it, but the fact that it caused controversy only increases my faith in the overall maturity and wisdom embodied in the majority of the Maker movement. (alliteration is cool)

    I believe a clarification regarding endorsement of political views and statements is common in films that touch upon such controversial subjects. Perhaps such a note should be added to the blog’s description. It might serve to ease any misgivings caused by future posts, as to the general civic-mindedness of the staff.

  17. Phillip Torrone says:

    @gschoppe – great comment!

    posting nuclear secrets and a way to talk to kids in weird ways in toontown is a lot different than this art project. slippery slopes are straw man.

    no one here on make has any political affiliations, MAKE as a publication doesn’t either, i think we have a mix of everyone if anything.

    i think all the observations about the other uses are interesting and the discussions here can be great, just because we post about an art project doesn’t mean we agree with the maker or artist.

    one time we had a project here and someone was *wearing* a che shirt and said we supported that or something, it gets a little crazy.

  18. gschoppe says:

    Wow, thanks for responding Mr. Torrone (or is it Phil, Phillip, or Mr T?) I’ve been a fan for a while now.

    I highly respect the staff of Make, and I do agree that this is a valid, and even quite interesting post, but I would argue that the ramifications of this project are very similar (same complexity class :D) to the issue I mentioned with Toontown.

    (note: one of my friends was on the dev team and another acquaintance was the “hacker”, so I’m sorry if this seems a bit obscure, but it was the most relevant thing that came to mind)

    If you’ll indulge my pedantry for a moment, let me elaborate on the former Toontown issue before I compare it to the issue at hand:


    Disney’s Toontown is a massively multiplayer online game (coded in python) that advertised as a kid-safe online game. The “safety” came from the unique way in which chat was delivered between players. Each player had a passcode, that they could share with their friends. When a player spoke, anyone with their passcode could see the text above the pertinent character. Anyone without the passcode would simply see a cartoon representation of the noise made by the character’s species (an anthropomorphic dog would bark, a duck would quack, etc.). Since strangers could not chat to anyone without out of game contact, it was considered a relatively “safe” system.

    Toontown drew interest from some adult subgroups, as well as children. Some of these individuals (be they furries, or disney fans, or simply interested gamers) wanted a way to make friends through the game without outside contact. (an idea directly opposed to the mission of the game) They developed a “dance” by which passcodes could be encoded into character motions. (three jumps means n, or such things) The only drawback was that both parties had to know the “dance”.

    Eventually, A certain python coder, with totally innocent intentions, became interested enough in the game to decompile it for study. (if you are familiar with python, you get almost everything, down to variable names and even some forms of comments). In the course of wading through the code, he discovered a glaring lapse of judgment on the part of the coders. The encrypting of text messages was done entirely on the client at the receiving end. The text was received, in full, and then disguised as quacks, barks, and grunts on the client’s machine. This coder also discovered a whole slew of administrator and debugging code.

    He wrote a program that sat between the client and the server, and allowed him certain “abilities”. using this intermediary, he could issue server commands, send administrative messages to anyone, and read anyone’s speech.

    He planned to use the program to foster the growth of Toontown as a true social network, however, he did not consider the possible misuse his program could bring.

    His tool allowed for, not only the unrestricted access to the screens of hundreds of minors, but allowed solicitation from a position of implied ethos (i.e. admin messaging).

    The coder in question eventually notified the dev team, rather than releasing his code, and patches were created and distributed. However, the fallout of a release could have been catastrophic.


    In the same way, misuse of this projection system could be catastrophic. Imagine a randomly chosen blank wall in Disneyland… How many times do you think it appears in photographs daily? I’d say at least several hundred. A small projection setup could be placed there and remain unnoticed for days, if hidden properly.

    Such a projector could advertise a chance to “chat with the creators of Wall-E” (for example) at a listed website, date, and time. Anyone visiting or registering at the chat room would be right to expect that the purported “creators” were speaking from a position of ethos. You can easily deduce any number of possible personal, corporate, or even international issues that might arise from such a believable falsehood.


    I do not see a straw man argument here, but a real possibility of misuse.

    I do however, concede that the mention of nuclear weapons was an overstatement entirely posted for “shock value”. I once read that a US magazine had run an article on the atomic bomb in the 60’s that had been bought in large quantities by a foreign power interested in nuclear club membership. (Egypt, maybe?) The provenance of said anecdote is questionable, but it has become a part of my varied and eclectic cultural literacy. My thoughts run furiously to this tidbit whenever limitation of the press is discussed, in any manner. You can consider it my personal addendum to Godwin’s Law, but please forgive me that lapse.


    At the end of this long-winded rambling, I wish to reiterate my position, once more. I see this article as a valid piece, in a similar vein to homebrew spark-gap radios, such as designed in “Carl and Jerry”. There is an interesting concept with valid application, but a real possibility of misuse.

    I simply wish to see both sides fairly…


    For my part, I’m imagining an addition to my Parish’s Haunted House this Halloween. A set of plywood figures with head cutouts (such as at the fair) to encourage photo-ops, with a spooky surprise figure accompanying the visitors when they later view the photos… possibly instructable-worthy goodness.

    p.s. Longest post EVER

  19. Andrew says:

    I like it! Though none of you thought of a GREAT use for this device.

    Think of it as a “photo-jammer” for use at museums, concerts or other ‘no-flash’ venues….

    Blinds red light and Gatt camera’s amongst other big brother technologies.

  20. The Oracle says:

    @Phil – sure, jamming someone taking pics of you would be fair. But, again, this thing can’t really be used for that because it’s set up as a projector pointing away from you. You may have a decent use for the tech, but this device and this person only have vile uses.

    Same for Andrew, not to mention he would (deservingly) get jail time if caught using something like this to circumvent red light cameras.

    @pissed. If I were at the assault/murder trial I’d acquit. You’ve got to love jury nullification.

  21. sfdgsdfgs says:

    If anyone ruined my vacation pictures, an important pic of a family member or friend, I would track them down and vandalize his rectum with foot.

  22. Ragnar says:

    Ok, so this device will be place where? Hmmm, most propably at a place where a lot of pictures get shot. So your – Oh so unique – picture of a sign (propably 1000’s of it on flixxer already, in 10 times better quality) gets spoiled. Big deal.

    The idea is brilliant and I even wanted to get one of my shots “spoiled” like that leaving me with a “WTF?”

    PS: works only if you use a flash, and it’s patented against comercial use. Read the page, then brag.

  23. Don says:

    A device that ‘paints’ something only visible to cameras, and is made from off-the-shelf tech mostly used for other than its intended purposes is really very clever.

    And the angle of challenging the notion that “seeing is believing” is artistically valid.

    Sure, the guy chose to use his powers to inject political graffiti into other people’s photos, but that’s really just human nature at work. The device has uses far beyond his chosen demonstration.

    Speaking of human nature, a lesson I learned here is just how much a chosen demo can color perceptions of the device itself.

  24. J. Quimbaum says:

    I find it disturbing that a few commentors here have posted alleged statements or quotes from the “Image Fulgarator” website that simply can not found anywhere in the website, for example:

    “This exists for no other reason that to make life miserable for people. That’s the stated purpose, that’s what it does, and the creators brag about it.”

    “the stated goal is to ruin people’s photos, this is what they claim, … The creators designed it for that goal.”

    I couldn’t find anything in the Image Fulgarator site that could be construed as bragging about making life miserable for someone, or any suggestion that the goal is to ruin a photo. To post such blatant misstatements is insulting to the reputation of Mr. Julius von Bismarck, and may even be considered libel.

    That said, the issue of whether the Image Fulgarator is “art” or not, as far as MAKE is concerned, should be secondary to the actual technology behind it. I read MAKE to learn about new technology, and new uses for existing technology. I’m interested in the technology itself. If it happens to be useful for a certain type of “art”, that’s fine, but it shouldn’t be the basis for the entire discussion here, where the primary concern is the technology.

    I think this device is a great compilation of parts that the typical photographer has laying around the house, and for that reason alone it is cool. Mr. von Bismarck, I applaud you (and your insanely powerful beard).

  25. Phillip Torrone says:

    @gschoppe – wow, thanks for the comment and story, now that you’ve explained more about the toontown thing i can say that it is 100% different than this photo-art project.

    this artist is putting the idea, the technical details and the art itself out there for comments and reactions (it won an art award, ars electronica).

    the toontown thing is a lot of different, it’s not an art project, it’s an interesting hack but unless the programmer calls it “art” we couldn’t even suggest that yet.

    cool story, thanks for sharing!

  26. Scott M says:

    I think this wouldbe a neat idea to use in my front yard for Halloween. I have a large Halloween display. I think it would be cool to have ghostly images show up on peoples pictures that they take of my front yard.

  27. Ed says:

    Funny, the first thing I thought when watching the video was that it looked like a thinly disguised machine pistol with telescopic sight.

    This combined with the stereotypical beard would probably get him shot as a suspected terrorist…

  28. The Snob says:

    I object to the huge gap between the quality of the description of what the thing does and the pictures that actually result from it. This is the sort of thing any freshman engineering student might build, or even less. The only thing this guy adds is the stereotypical Artist Costume.

    Artists have always had to align their work with the whims of the people who pay for it, or else work for a living. These days, with so much art paid for by grants and the like, it seems like the most successful artist is the one who is best at describing what his art is, rather than the one who actually does it.

Comments are closed.

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!
Maker Faire Bay Area 2023 - Mare Island, CA

Escape to an island of imagination + innovation as Maker Faire Bay Area returns for its 15th iteration!

Buy Tickets today! SAVE 15% and lock-in your preferred date(s).