Julius Von Bismarck

The Creators Project: Nice place you have here, it looks like an inventor’s lab. Is that how you see yourself, as an inventor? Or as an artist?

Julius Von Bismarck: I studied design and visual communication at the University of Fine Arts, in Berlin, which was also really technological. But even before that I was fascinated by both science and art. During school I had physics class and arts class during my A-Levels and couldn’t really decide which way I wanted to go. So I found a really good place where I can follow both.

Why did you choose art and technology instead of visual communication?

Even when I was involved with visual communication, I was fascinated by art and technology. So I did graphic design as wel, but I looked for new challenges and I finally found my niche in art.

Let’s talk about your niche. You’re most famous for inventing the Fulgurator.

Yes. I have built many of versions of it. But this is the best one because it looks the most inconspicuous, like a camera. The first version looked like a gun. It is based on the way a camera works, but instead of making pictures it projects photos -- frozen moments thrust back into the world for split second. The joke about this work is that I can manipulate photos of others with this machine. I point this thing at an object and when someone is taking a picture of this object it will be manipulated without them knowing it. I can smuggle information into press photos, tourist photos, and so on. I’ve travelled the world with it trying to transmit visual messages.

Can you give us an example?

The first trial I did was when Obama had his speech in Berlin at the Siegessäule. I heard that he was coming and I thought, “perfect.” So I was on the lookout for content I could manipulate -- something that could be embedded in the picture.

Aren’t you afraid that this technique could be misused?

Sure. I have had plenty of sleepless nights. At the end I can’t prevent it even if I have the patent on it. I get offers from different advertising companies that offer me a lot of money for it, but my intention is for it to present the opposite perspective.

How does the inside work?

The camera is nearly completely normal but with a few changes. I just changed the backside. There is now a little mirror, which I engraved with a laser. On the back there is a flash and the thing that looks like a flash is just fake to distract other photographers. It also hides all the electronics that are necessary for this machine. In fact, the apparatus is not high tech; it could have been constructed 50 years ago. It works with analog as well as digital cameras. This version looks like a press camera so I can sneak it into press conferences.

The time it takes for technology to become obsolete is perpetually increasing. How does that affect your artistic development? T

he amount of stuff I can use will get bigger and bigger. In the future, I will combine old equipment with new stuff and try to reflect upon the push and pull between the two. I think every piece of technology that is being developed has to be questioned. Every invention is sort of a political statement. If I construct a machine that is able to change the world, then as the inventor I have to be able to support that change.