Jasper Otto Eisenecker’s Camouflaged Books is a subversive experimental publishing project that examines the content moderation and censorship mechanisms of print-on-demand platforms, using Lulu as an example. “After getting censored for publishing off-limits gore content, visual [and textual] strategies were developed to make incriminated content available again. The camouflaged version of the publication was republished successfully, without being detected by automatic checks and censorship mechanisms on the Print-on-demand platform Lulu. To share the knowledge about how to camouflage books in times of internet-censorship, the artist designed an instruction manual” (artist website).
After finding books such as Hitler’s Mein Kampf in Lulu’s webshop, the artist wondered if one could actually publish and print anything on Lulu or if there was some kind of content moderation. As Experiment 01, he conceived a publication whose entire visual material was taken from the shock site www.rotten.com, deliberately challenging the platform’s control and censorship mechanisms. The artist was able to upload the book and order a copy without problem. Then he found out in the membership agreement that, apparently, the only way to trigger content moderation was for other users to report questionable content. The artist then created a second user account with which he reported Experiment 01. He immediately received an email from Lulu’s Questionable Content Team: “It has also come to our attention that some of your content is inappropriate for General Access.” The book was moved to “Private Access” due to explicit content and violation of platform rules. It was also announced that from this point on, his account would be under constant review, and that if he violated the rules again, the account and all publications would be deleted immediately and without further notice.
This publication is an example of the successful application of the visual camouflage technique “Decoding Duplex” to the same images from Rotten.com that were previously blocked by Lulu. The method is based on “plac[ing] a mirrored image on top of another image. The color of the images play[s] also a very important role. Tests and experiments showed, that coloring the original image green and the mirrored one red works best. Having the same picture just with the color green and a mirrored version of the photo in red placed on top of the other one lets the original value and context of the photo disappear. By holding a red foil onto the page, the red and mirrored image disappears and we see the real value and censored image. This visuality helps to decode the pictures’ original content and blur the graphic explicitly into a more chaotic appearance” (Jasper Otto Eisenecker).
The title on the cover and title pages is based on the camouflage technique “Reversed Reading”: “By spelling and writing every word in a reversed order, the meaning of the words on first sight is difficult” (Jasper Otto Eisenecker, Manual, p. 4). Accordingly, the book title is written backward and translates as “An Archive of Disturbing Illustration,” which is the tagline of the Rotten.com website. This is supplemented on the title page with the website’s self-description, also spelled backward: “The soft white underbelly of the net, eviscerated for all to see: Rotten.com collects images and information from many sources to present the viewer with a truly unpleasant experience.”
This book was produced by means of camouflage technique “Filled Monospace,” which is based on the mutual interaction of digital and analog formats. Using an InDesign script, the letters are distributed alternately on the front and back of a book page so that the text cannot be read on a screen or in a book preview, and the platform’s automated censoring algorithms also fail because they are faced with what appears to be meaningless text. The reader of the printed copy, however, can read the full text as soon as the page is held up to the light:
“It requires a monospaced typeface for the texts, because we want to use the fact, that every letter has the same width. This method plays with the shine-through appearance of paper. We start with filling the front side of the page with text, but we leave every second letter white. Copy the same text block to the back side of the same page. Afterwards we mirror the text block that we just copied. We repeat the same step for the backside, but we start with leaving the first letter blank and continue with the third letter and so on. The empty space on the front side of the page should now be filled with the missing letters from the backside, when you hold the page against the light” (Jasper Otto Eisenecker).
The camouflaged text is based on Make ’Em Pay! Ultimate Revenge Techniques from the Master Trickster by George Hayduke.
“In times of internet-surveillance, the freedom of speech is endangered. This manual provides the reader with possible camouflage-techniques to hide content from being censored. The manual of course also gives hints how to encode the camouflaged books and how to read it” (blurb on Lulu).
After Jasper Otto Eisenecker discovered that you can not only sell books on Lulu, but also make e-books available for free, he published his manual as a free PDF on the site. In this way, he makes his strategies for subverting the platform available on this very platform as free, democratized, open-source knowledge. The printed copy in our collection was produced by the artist himself.