The Secret Tools Magicians Use to Fool You

Louis De Belle photographed magicians’ gimmicks for his series Disappearing Objects.

Though magicians can perform tricks with sleight of hand, many also rely on a vast array of secret tools and modified props.

The gimmicks are used in plain sight, but they only work by evading detection. Magicians in Milan let De Belle borrow their gimmicks to photograph them on the condition that he not reveal how they work.

“I wanted to celebrate this enormous yet invisible work by giving these marvelous tiny creations a chance of being seen,” De Belle says.

De Belle is most fascinated by flesh-colored gimmicks like fake hands or thumb tips, which fit over your real thumb and can be used to stow away a silk handkerchief or coin.

“These unrecognizable things come into focus as possessing an ostensible function by way of levers, switches, small pulleys, and other minor technologies that are fused with anthropomorphic representations of body parts,” De Belle says. “To me, they represent the ultimate secrecy, since they’re used before the spectator’s eyes.”

The photographer got hooked on magic as a teenager in the early 2000s when David Blaine was busy making headlines under water. But he was more interested in old-school routines, where performers work just feet from their spectators.

The subject struck De Belle as a natural follow-up to Besides Faith, his prior series about religious paraphernalia.

De Belle visited magic shops and attended magic shows at basement clubs in Milan, where he lives. Eventually, he got connected with the circuit of performers who trade tips to improve their acts.

The magicians allowed him to photograph the gimmicks in their private collections, though he had to promise not to reveal the secrets of how they actually work.

In a way, the internet has already done that, though. “It’s not hard to Google how a thumb tip works,” De Belle says.

The photographer carried the objects to his studio and photographed them against a plain backdrop without context or explanation.

He used a white soft box for even lighting and also warmed up the images in Photoshop.

“None of the tricks end up being given away,” De Belle says. “The absence of any caption or instruction allows these tiny objects to assume a new aesthetic.”

De Belle’s book Disappearing Objects highlights 32 magic gimmicks including a thumb tip, silicone eggs, and a dye tube. Published by Venice-based imprint Bruno, the book debuts at Offprint Paris this week.

social experiment by Livio Acerbo #greengroundit #wired