And Now, a Few Words From the Tourist Standing Next to You

Off-camera flash as High Art: Julius von Bismark, an artist in Berlin, is playing with snap-happy tourists by injecting words into their photos.

He cut a hole in the back of an old film camera and stuck a slaved flash into it. By writing words onto transparent plastic and sliding the sheet into a slot near the film plane, the whole rig now works backwards and becomes a projector. By leaving the shutter open and slaving the rear flash, he can now project those words onto the subject of someone else's photo when their flash trips his flash.

His slave setup is a little clunky (kinda Steam Punk-ish, actually). But a standalone SB-800 also would work great -- without the camera-topping project box slave.

He's in it for the social commentary, but I can't help thinking how much fun this would be for sophomoric jokes, too. You know, if you were that kind of person...

(Thanks to everyone who sent this in --, via Gizmodo.)



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Anonymous kkl said...

Ya i saw this one on gizmodo this morning too.
and first thing i can think of is some evil idea >:)

i think the look of the setup is kind of too "gun-like" tho.. which could catch some trouble.

June 25, 2008 3:24 PM  
Anonymous dan c said...

The capitalist/marketing junkie in me immediately saw advertising potential. Set this up at popular tourist / photo sites and you could instantly brand tourist photos with your logo or message.

You didn't get the idea from me though.

June 25, 2008 3:31 PM  
Anonymous ricdiggle said...

What a fantastic idea. I feel an evil cackle coming on. Could be the best advertising technique ever!

June 25, 2008 3:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David at least your sophomoric humor didn't ruin anyone's vacation pictures.

June 25, 2008 3:35 PM  
Anonymous randomway said...

It's a great idea, and I'm just wondering how come the german police haven't arrested him yet for looking like a terrorist with a machinegun...

June 25, 2008 3:39 PM  
Blogger Isaac Holland Boda said...

I seen this not too long ago somewhere. Very good post and technique! Looks like a weapon and would scare onlookers haha!

June 25, 2008 3:41 PM  
Blogger MK said...

Hmmm...clever technical know-how going on there. But, kind of assholish. I mean you are F**king up people's pictures. They may be trite, cliche, boring vacation photos but they might mean something to the people who take them.

On the other hand, if this fellow tells the people and then lets them get the shot they came for, well, no harm no foul. But short of that, kind of sh*tty of the dude.

Oh, and I agreed with an anonymous poster in your earlier thread--the one about messing with that girl with your PWs--you should have at least let her in on it afterwards. Though, truth be known I laughed at your description of the event! I'm so ashamed.

June 25, 2008 3:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems like this would only work if the victim's camera doesn't generate any pre-flashes, or if it had an incredibly fast recycle time...

June 25, 2008 4:04 PM  
Blogger Andrew Kraker said...

Wouldnt the pre-flash set it off and screw it up in most cases? Either way, that is awesome.

June 25, 2008 4:11 PM  
Blogger David said...


Not so sure I agree with you. Which photo from the vacation do you think they are gonna be talking about when they get home?

If they do not know about the guy, it's a little mind-blowing. And if they do, it'll be, "that light cannon guy flashes us!"

I know I would be showing it around, either way.

June 25, 2008 4:13 PM  
Blogger Sabina said...

And we all know that you would never ever do such a thing. . . right, David? (said with a mischievious grin)
I promise I'll be laughing when you pull this gimmick on me, but remember turn about is fair play.

June 25, 2008 4:27 PM  
Blogger Alfred said...

With that camera looking like a gun, he will probably get shot :)
Ah, the name might be another reason :)

June 25, 2008 4:30 PM  
Blogger MK said...


Yes...if people think and feel as you do. Also, how long before the novelty wears off? As more and more wannabees take his how-to-build-a-light-cannon specs and begin running around the globe to mess with people...well, in time I see it becoming less and less a "cool! we got flashed by that light cannon thingy!" Especially if and when people start putting four letter words or raunchy sayings in there.

In any case, I don't want to be a killjoy or anything. Just my thoughts.


June 25, 2008 4:34 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

I actually don't think a standalone SB-800 would have worked, because he needed the lens in order to focus the light in order to have the words in focus.

I could be wrong though...

June 25, 2008 4:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

man that is too cool. even if you don't want to mess with tourists, it is something that could be added into some really great street shots. thanks for sharing

June 25, 2008 5:05 PM  
Anonymous Richard Cave said...

I have seen a similar set up on flickr but using just an old zoom lens and flash unit. Imagine if the authorities cottoned on to this. They would have copyright protection or no photography flash warnings every where.

Oh the horror!

I would love to have a go at this..

Imagine if Banksy saw this?


June 25, 2008 5:07 PM  
Blogger chadw said...

For the guy in the video, he's trying to get a point across that's more important than "ruining someone's vacation photos".

For the people joking around and taking pictures at what used to be a tense (and violent) location, he's trying to inform the public that people are still getting killed when attempting to cross certain borders.

The design seems to try to get the idea across. As David points out, the same thing could be, and has been, done with a flash, slide, and 50mm lens.

June 25, 2008 5:15 PM  
Blogger chadw said...

By the way, his text reads:

"Hundreds of people died last year by trying this at the US - Mexico border"

June 25, 2008 5:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is completely lame. Ignorant to deliberately mess up others photos. Some of these people may be in the middle of a once in a lifetime vacation.
I think this guy will end up in court at some point.

June 25, 2008 5:18 PM  
Blogger Andrew Alexander said...

Well, there's three minutes of my life I won't get back.

June 25, 2008 5:25 PM  
Blogger plot17A said...

Ahh, Why not load up a pre processed set of 35mm transparency images or 'Gobos' and use this as a flash projector! on your next shoot. 36 different background on a roll.

June 25, 2008 5:34 PM  
Blogger tschnitzlein said...

What a hilarious and cleverly subversive idea!

By the way, the camera symbol in the pentagram is a graphical joke about one of Germany's more recent political traumata: It's an alteration of the symbol of the Baader-Meinhof terrorist group which haunted Germany in ther late seventies of the last century. Swap the camera wirth a machine gun, and you have the "Rote Armee Fraktion" logo.

It might be worth considering a translation of the guy's artist's statement on his website:

"The high degree of trust that man invests into photographic representations of reality was the main motivation for the development of the Image Fulgurator. A camera can be used as a tool for one's own memory, because the truthfulness of one's own photographs is not put into question. In this way, reality can be depicted through photographs both in one's individual environment and in public space. An intervention using the Fulgurator is particularly effective in locations that are sacred, politically connotated or very popular. Especially auratic, highly symbolic objects lend themselves as good targets for such a manipulation. Unique events, which can only be made accessible to a large public via photographic recording can strongly be influenced in this way. In this context, the Fulgurator performs a manipulation of the imaged reality and therefore targets the framework of media-based memory."

June 25, 2008 5:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And how would that work with the (majority of) peoplet that use TTL. most will not see it if they trip it with their TTL series' of flashes?

i looked for an explanation, am i missing something?

June 25, 2008 5:49 PM  
Blogger John said...

Brilliant! Although I'd make the projector look a bit less like a weapon to the layman and more like a camera.

To those who think their photos have been ruined: get a grip -- damn near everybody is shooting digital; you're out a few electrons. Have a chuckle and move on.

June 25, 2008 6:45 PM  
Blogger Andy M said...

Before you jump on the guy, let's not forget only the tourists who use flash can trigger his slave flash, so this does not "ruin" everybody's photos.

It's a brilliant idea regardless of the social, political and other kind of aspects/intentions that people might use it for.

June 25, 2008 7:15 PM  
Blogger AK_luva said...

Am I the only one here that is thinking that he should've flashed a picture of the virgin mary instead? I bet that would make it on Good Morning America... ahahaha! ehem.. but yes ruining people's photos is not cool.

June 25, 2008 7:45 PM  
Anonymous Derek said...

John, what about someone who has had a family member murdered trying to "illegally" cross Checkpoint Charlie? They visit it one time in their life and get this crap pasted across their once in a lifetime visit?

I love how people are somehow given a pass for intruding in the lives of others as long as it is "PC".

The message is pure propaganda and is completely errant, Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin wall was built to keep people in against their will. The US border is designed (very poorly) to keep people out, as any border is.

June 25, 2008 9:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wonder if SI would use this so no other company or photographer could use strobes at games?

June 25, 2008 10:37 PM  
Anonymous moxford said...

I figured this was "less light, more brains" but I wonder if it could be adapted to this....

June 25, 2008 10:46 PM  
Blogger monkeyhustlin said...

Clever idea, I think the similarities between the Fulgurator and a gun are fitting. Messing up someone's "once in a lifetime" shot? I don't think so, it might make one though.

As far as the pre flashes, I use a remote 285 with a peanut slave that recycles fast enough to work with my E-TTL on camera.

I might have to put one of these up during the next wedding formals after the ceremony. Maybe an icon like Jesus will make them bow to my mighty strobes.

June 25, 2008 11:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In los angeles we have these things called photo lights... at night they let out a big flash to take your photo. I think I should mount a flash pointed at the direction of the camera on the front of my car. That way if I run a light it will blow out the photo of me and they wont know who ran the red.

June 26, 2008 12:12 AM  
Blogger A21 said...

You know places which say- "No photography allowed" and tourists still take photos- that where they could definitely put this idea to work.

Imagine the guys surprise when he gets a photo marked "I am an impolite cow".


June 26, 2008 1:09 AM  
Blogger Sybren said...

I love the amazed dude's comment, "It's impossible!". Well, dude, it just happened!

June 26, 2008 2:49 AM  
Blogger Rollasoc said...

Neat little idea, for watermarking other people's images in camera. (or your own for that matter).

That is really evil...

June 26, 2008 2:58 AM  
Anonymous Uncertainworld said...

June 26, 2008 3:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This guy does not expose film or a sensor. That makes him a "parasitic-photographer", because his images end up on others' exposures. Reminds me of the scrawl advertisments on the bottom of the TV, neither asked for or wanted. Or the one who would argue for their donor-canvassed graffiti "art" on bridges and train cars.

If it is art for art's sake, should we expect little overexposed Disneyland logos or Viagra ads in our next vacation pictures? No, let's just have the photo lab throw in whatever sarcastic or political captions they want. Let's have our photos look like a web browser!

Sorry, got carried away.


June 26, 2008 6:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This would be a nice rig to have at weddings - when you have problems with people shooting over your shoulder.

There oughta be a way to rig something so that your flash won't trigger the Fulgarator, but Aunt Betty's little point & shoot does. Imagine her surprise to see an overlay saying "No more oral after tonight" on her pictures...

June 26, 2008 8:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a load of difference between prematurely triggering somebody's flash and deliberately ruining their photographs.

Its juvenile, and selfish.

June 26, 2008 8:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd like to see him do this on the White House in Washington DC... He would be shot on the spot. Why does he need a trigger on it?

June 26, 2008 10:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Picture this. Any private place in the USA where picture taking is not tolerated.

Your illegal pictures contain a message to that effect!

June 26, 2008 11:03 AM  
Anonymous stollo said...

What's very interesting, most of peeps posting here consider screwing up someone's vacation pics more evil, than killing people at the border... This guy had some pretty important message. A kind of message that makes you stop and think. It made me at least. There is no practical difference between Berlin Wall and US border - people were dying here and are dying there. No matter wheather trying to get in or out (as someone posted above), cause what's more important they do try to get from a worse world to a better one. The fact is they are dying. That's why I wouldn't dare calling the guy a lamer. There still are more important things than a few photos. Even those taken during a once-in-a-lifetime trip... At least to me.

June 26, 2008 12:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rights and responsibilities: People have a right to take photos there. Others have a responsibility to not unduly interfere with other people's rights. This responsibility for non-interference is badly eroded in our society (we tolerate increasingly bad, impolite behavior such as boom boxes and loud, obnoxious mobile phone users). More so in the case of public "art" like this. at least for people shooting digital, this interference is instantly detectable and fixable. For people shooting film, there's both an expense (similar to junk faxes) and a permanently lost vacation opportunity. Would crashing your camera on the perpetrator's head in public be equally acceptable as "performance art?"

June 26, 2008 12:45 PM  
Blogger Akito said...

Why is he trying to get a patent on this????

Its just a projector with a flash as light source... I guess I wouldn't have used a camera body for the main body.

June 26, 2008 1:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the "No photography allowed" places, all those places have to do in today's digital world is put up a few inexpensive IR flood lamps and that will take care of all digital cameras, completely over exposing your photos.

June 26, 2008 1:59 PM  
Anonymous TD said...

Really ingenious, but I have to agree with MK and say that just because it's clever, doesn't mean it's OK to mess up someone's photos. Some pranks are funny and harmless - this one... man I'd hate to return home from a European vacation and find my photos had this happen to them.

June 26, 2008 3:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The prank? meh...

But as a reverse cookie for studio shots it is SUPER interesting!!! thanks Dave!!


June 26, 2008 4:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

People trying to walk the desert into America are not being "killed". They are "dying" from a nearly impossible feat.

They are, however, being "killed" by coyotes (human trafficers) and drug dealers/transporters and the other violent free-agent element on the border. (i.e. the U.S. border patrol, for all practical purposes isn't allowed to shoot anyone.)

If one is expressing his free-speech on our photographs, his message becomes open season to our free-speech rebuttal.

Let's not confuse a smart idea with a smart a$$ one.


June 26, 2008 4:54 PM  
Blogger Danie said...

Imagine pulling this thing out at a news conference... It could be absolutely blinking hillarious. I'm in South Africa, and if I could get to a Zimbabwe Bob Mugabe press conference I can just imagine all the things I'd display over all the media's images.

As for idea. This is a really cool nifty little naugthy. However, if I was working and someone did that, I'd unleash some serious full power Sunpak power into their strapped open retinas!


June 27, 2008 4:29 AM  
Blogger chadw said...


The message in the video said "people have died", my incorrect paraphrase said "people are killed". My mistake.

June 27, 2008 7:07 AM  
Anonymous stollo said...


But I am very far from prohibiting anyone's free speech here. Just wanted to point out that a human being's death is probably more important than few bucks spent on the trip.
Anyway I didn't mean to justify the guy - I wouldn't be glad seeing a Cca-Cla ad on my photos either. But I felt that this message was more important than an ad. The problem is there is not black and white only - there is also gray ;) You can call it a moral relativism if you like. I'm sure you know what I mean.


June 27, 2008 7:12 AM  
Anonymous rohan said...

he should get himself a life, i am starting to worry about this site, i think i will go back to

June 27, 2008 8:19 AM  
Blogger tschnitzlein said...

Interesting discussion going on here ...

Actually, if you're discussing freedom of speech, you should never forget to also think of the freedom of arts.

And for art, it is commonly accepted that art often has to use subversive ways to bring across its message (our discussion here is living proof for this).

I do think it makes a great difference if someone is just playing a prank on some trivial tourist sight, or if he's actually doing this in a location that is heavily laden with political or cultural connotation.

Let's not forget that Checkpoint Charlie has for decades been (mis- ?) used for political propaganda about how morally superior the "West" is in comparison to the "East". Over the years of German re-unification, this perception has been relativated quite considerably here in Germany.

June 27, 2008 8:30 AM  
Blogger MK said...

Stollo says: "What's very interesting, most of peeps posting here consider screwing up someone's vacation pics more evil, than killing people at the border..."

That's simply absurd. Nobody in this thread has suggested any such thing.

David Hobby and others might think it is all clever and funny and that people will get home and be amazed at what they find on their images. They may think it'd be fun and clever to use it for pranks as well, not just for political commentary.

I couldn't disagree more. I think most people subjected to this fellow's prank would be annoyed. I think that now that he has shown other people how to build such a toy there will be even more opportunity for folks to mess with other people's images around the world. And they won't all be wonderful political messages either.

For me, in the end, it is simply rude.

June 27, 2008 10:24 AM  
Anonymous stollo said...

mk says: "That's simply absurd. Nobody in this thread has suggested any such thing."

Of course you are right - nobody suggested that. But what struck me is that nearly anyone focused on judging his activity in categories of a prank. I can use fingers of my one hand to count posters that saw behind all this more than just a stupid joke. Leaving ethical discussions aside - is his activity an art? Hell why not?! Because its intrusive? Art often has to be intrusive, rude, bad taste etc. to make peeps crawl out their shells, to shake them, to make them think and feel. And as far as it doesn't hurt anyone I consider it OK. We live in such a world that it becomes to be more comfortable to not see and, when facing such an activity Mr. von Bismark took, its easier to complain about possibly wasted money (although noone of posting people happend to have their photos ruined) or consider it just rude. That's sad. What I mean - of course everyone has a perfect right to judge him as being rude, but that's just a tip of an iceberg. There is also a whole lot more under the surface. It's up to anyone what he/she prefers to see :)


June 27, 2008 11:40 AM  
Blogger MK said...

OK Stollo...fair enough.

For the record, I didn't think what this guy did was just a stupid joke. I don't think that he believes it was just a joke. I believe he is passionate about his social commentary. I don't happen to think it is OK to mess up peoples photos with your social commentary...but hey, that's just me I guess. But my other criticism was mostly about what David and some others thought about it. About how it could also be used as a prank. Oh well.

June 27, 2008 12:31 PM  
Anonymous Brian said...

Sophomoric?? Better sophomoric humor than no humor at all I say. As for "ruining" someone else's photos, most of them were already ruined by on-camera flash anyway. Perhaps "" should be projected onto the images, then they'll learn how to light properly and you'll be doing them a favor.

June 27, 2008 12:53 PM  
Blogger alohadave said...

This was picked up by the Boston Globe in the Sunday paper. I was kind of surprised to see that a major paper would pick up something like this.

June 29, 2008 9:26 PM  
Blogger logic said...

This is the photographic equivalent of graffiti.

Just like graffiti, it might have a social message, or meet many people's definition of art. It could inspire you to action, make you stop and admire it, or repulse you, as any art can.

And, just like graffiti, it defaced someone's property. In this case, their film, or their digital memory of what they saw.


June 30, 2008 4:42 PM  
Blogger jimmyd said...

Wow! Takes the art of flash photography to new heights. Sort of the way up-skirt videos enhanced the cinematic arts.

June 30, 2008 9:11 PM  
Blogger GabbyRM said...


December 14, 2010 12:27 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

I was just on his web site, and saw he was able to point that thing at the president, thats kinda scary. I remember when a guy was detained for just looking at Clinton through an unmounted rifle scope.

December 14, 2010 10:51 PM  
Blogger PhotosByStephan said...

@stollo There is a world of difference between the Berlin Wall & the US border:

People aren't dying at the border crossing; they're precisely because they are crossing somewhere other than a border crossing.

They need not die at all. If they apply for immigration & gain approval, they can cross at a immigration check point. Most likely, they'll be sponsored by a non-profit which will make the journey easier. My mother did this. So can they.

If they're denied immigration, they still need not die. They can simply remain where they are and not make a trip into open desert inadequately prepared.

And since they can't go to the US, they may as well spend their time reforming the political & economic conditions in their own country so no one feels the need to just run off into the desert.

December 15, 2010 7:59 PM  
Blogger KlauSquare said...

I think the idea is amazing, but I don't like it. It's like graffiti, letting your message parasite on other peoples property, possibly destroying what someone else had figured was a nice surface. I am all for freedom of speech, but also for freedom of choice.

The "artist" may think he has an important message, but he leaves me no choice as to whether I want to carry his message or not.

January 01, 2011 3:42 PM  
OpenID projectxo said...

And here is my cheap version:

September 23, 2011 5:03 PM  
OpenID modifiedphoto said...

Brilliant concept. I think I would find a better use for it than to mess with other peoples photos, but it is a little amusing.

September 24, 2011 3:06 AM  
Blogger Tom Diakun said...

It is a cool technical achievement which could be used to create neat effects in one's own photographs.

But the way he uses it is NOT cool. It is not just a matter of wasting a few electrons in a tourist's digital camera. People pay thousands of dollars to visit historical sites that may have very powerful personal significance to them.

While he may feel very self righteous about his "art" and self expression, to me he is on the same moral level as any prankster who defaces a public monument by scrawling political graffiti on it. It doesn't matter that it is in an "invisible ink" that can only he seen with flash photography. The effect is the same and shows a fundamental disrespect for other people. .

While he is at it, why not take his apparatus to a wedding and project rude comments about the bride into the other guests' cameras?Freedom of expression, right?

Right. Sure it is.

September 24, 2011 9:13 AM  
Blogger jmoore said...

First I should say that I have found some really good technical information on this blog, but I'm a little surprised by how dismissive some of the comments are regarding Julius' work. A German artist "projects" flames on the Reichstag and it's simply a "prank" of some kind? There is a bit more going on here than a cheap joke.

Apropos some of the advertising comments and the patent comment, I believe that he was trying to patent the device specifically to keep people from using the technique as a marketing tool.

Also, the work is not "Art for art's sake" as one poster wrote. If you are going to attack the artistic merit of a work, using a phrase with a fairly long history in art accurately is not a bad idea.

October 22, 2011 9:58 PM  

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