I'm a documentary photographer exploring the world of espionage. Ask me anything about photography, research, making books, prints, or anything else.

Sep 20, 2017

Hi! For the last two years I have been documenting numbers stations, shortwave radio broadcasts used by intelligence agencies to communicate with their intelligence operatives. I use research, satellite mapping and other techniques to trace the signals back to their possible broadcast sites. I am about to publish a book about this and we are crowdfunding it here.Feel free to ask me anything about documentary photography, researching strange subjects, numbers stations, making books, producing prints, or anything else you can think of.

Comments are locked

Conversation (105)

In three easy steps and under a minute you could be hosting your own AMA. Join our passionate community of AMA hosts and schedule your own AMA today.

Let's get started!

The obvious answer here is "buy the book and find out!" but let me ask anyways. How do the visuals you're providing in the book add to the overall project? To be perfectly fair, I cannot honestly say I "get it" in the first place, so perhaps if I did it would be obvious. Also, feel free to suggest that I buy the book to find out!

Sep 20, 6:51PM EDT0

There are a few ways I could anwser this but broadly I hope they encourage some reflection on the ways that organisations like intelligence agencies see things themselves, and the challenges and limitations of that.

Also, buy the book to find out!

Sep 20, 7:03PM EDT0

Nice, that helps. There's the whole "turn the lens back on the whatever" dynamic going on, I now see. Which CAN be lame as hell, but it sounds like you're using it as a facet of a larger thing, rather than hoping the whole "watching the watchers" thing still has enough cool factor by itself to carry anything (it doesn't).


Sep 20, 7:13PM EDT0

What challenges did you face during your research and how did you handle them?

Sep 20, 6:23PM EDT0

The biggest challenge was just the quanitity of information to look through, which just required patience and time. And of course there is also the sense that there is still more I could continue to look at. But you have to draw a line somewhere.

Sep 20, 6:30PM EDT0

Shadows of the State seems to be made up largely of appropriated imagery (the satellite material) and these graphs which I assume are some sort  of a screenshot. Obviously you're comfortable with the idea of Photography apart from  Me Clicking A Shutter, do you have any general thoughts this kind of non-traditional approach to getting imagery?

Sep 20, 5:50PM EDT0

Appropriation is pretty much as old as photography, and for that matter art, but it seems to have a particular resonance now when the quantity of imagery already out there is so huge and growing so fast. That said I'm not all that interested in appropriation for it's own sake but rather in the idea of choosing the right visual approach for whatever topic I'm exploring. Sometimes that means taking photos, sometimes that means taking other people's photos.

Sep 20, 5:59PM EDT0

What tools do you use when tracing those signals? Do you have your own improvised tools for it?

Sep 20, 12:49PM EDT0

I use completely off the shelf equiptment. Mostly I don't even use any specialised hardware, instead I use Software Defined Radio running on a desktop computer, connecting via the internet to recievers in localities around the world where I think reception for the signal I am interested in is likely to be strong.

Last edited @ Sep 20, 4:43PM EDT.
Sep 20, 4:42PM EDT0
Show all 5 replies

You have gone way over your crowdfunding goal, you must be very excited and thankful! What will you do with the additional money? 

Sep 20, 10:50AM EDT0

Yes we've had an amazing response. We've set some stretch goals and if we meet them we plan to print a larger run of books and also to expand the website that will accompany the book. We are only £1000 away from our stretch goals but need help to reach it so please do spread the word to anyone you think might want to support the project!

Sep 20, 4:41PM EDT0
Show all 3 replies

Is an articulated external flash so much better than a built in that it justifies the price?

Sep 20, 7:49AM EDT0

Yes always, just far more flexible.

Sep 20, 4:39PM EDT0

What important lesson have you learnt from using crowdfunding so far?

Sep 20, 7:39AM EDT0

Make sure the thing you are crowdfunding really has the potential to engage people, plan a strategy for who you are going to advertise it to,  think really carefully about what you are going to offer people as rewards, put some time into really making the campaign page look good, and then go for it!

Sep 20, 4:39PM EDT0
Show all 3 replies

Wouldn't doing this tip off other countries not fond of the USA and put people in harm's way?

Sep 20, 2:46AM EDT0

I don't think so. The information behind the project is all in the public domain, so anyone could find it. A big source of information has actually been documents declassified by US intelligence agencies. Besides it seems that the US no longer uses numbers stations itself.

Last edited @ Sep 20, 4:44PM EDT.
Sep 20, 3:41AM EDT0

What did you do prior to the two years you have been focusing on this project? 

Sep 20, 2:29AM EDT0
Last edited @ Sep 20, 4:45PM EDT.
Sep 20, 3:43AM EDT0
Show all 3 replies

How do you do arial shots?

Sep 19, 10:15PM EDT0

I use Google Earth to generate these images.

Sep 20, 3:44AM EDT0

Oh good plan! I hadnt thought of that haha 

Sep 20, 11:12PM EDT0

What brand of gear do you shoot with?

Sep 19, 8:39PM EDT0

For this project mostly one of these:For other projects I've used all sorts, including current camera companies, ones which no longer exist, and I've even built my own cameras.

Sep 20, 3:48AM EDT0
Show all 3 replies

If you could create your crowdfunding campaign again, would you do anything differently? 

Sep 19, 7:49PM EDT0

I'm pretty happy with how it's gone. If I did it again I might have started contacting press contacts earlier and pushed harder to get more into print about the campaign because that does seem to be a pretty important factor in driving people to your page, but at 150% funded it's hard to have many regrets!

Sep 20, 3:50AM EDT0
Show all 3 replies

How many numbers stations have you located?

Sep 19, 7:42PM EDT0

Without doing an exact count it is somewhere just over thirty stations, although that includes one radio jamming station, and also several stations which were or are thought to be numbers stations but where I think there is very limited evidence to support that assumption.

Sep 20, 3:47AM EDT0

Where do you intend to print the book and why?

Sep 19, 6:40PM EDT0

We are printing the book in Lithuania. The publisher I am working with suggested it as they have printed their previous books there. Quality is really important to me, but when I saw his other books the results were excellent so I agreed. It's also cheaper than printing in some of the traditional printing locations like Italy, so our fundraised money will go further.

Sep 20, 3:46AM EDT0
Show all 3 replies

Can you give me 4 reasons as to why you choose crowdfunding to launch your product?

Sep 19, 4:30PM EDT0
  1. we struggled to get funding from traditional sources.
  2. we felt we had good networks to spread the campaign thought.
  3. we felt the topic had the potential to attract some press.
  4. we felt it would be a good way to test out the appeal of the book.
Sep 19, 4:49PM EDT0
Show all 3 replies

What advice would you give to anyone else looking to create their first crowdfunding project?

Sep 19, 3:54PM EDT0

make sure the thing you are crowdfunding really has the potential to engage people, plan a strategy for who you are going to advertise it to, put some time into really making the campaign page look good, and then go for it!

Sep 19, 4:50PM EDT0
Show all 3 replies

Do you know of a good, free online guide to using manual settings on a DSLR?

Sep 19, 3:29PM EDT0

My recommendation would be to just experiment, change things and look at what impact that has on the images you take, that was how I learnt to shoot.

Sep 19, 5:45PM EDT0

Okay, thanks I will check some tutorials out online 

Sep 20, 10:53PM EDT0

Is crowdfunding just about money or are there other benefits?

Sep 19, 3:09PM EDT0

We also found it a good way to test out the audience for our book, and also to generate some interest around it which hopefully will pay off once we have the books printed and avaliable for sale.

Sep 19, 5:46PM EDT0
Show all 3 replies

Do you start projects on your own and then sell your material or do you work on assignments?

Sep 19, 2:28PM EDT0

I do commercial photography work, I write and I also teach. Generally my personal projects (like this one) generate little or no money once you account for the expense of making them, but I'm fine with that.

Sep 19, 4:51PM EDT0
Show all 3 replies

Do you sell your photos as stock photography online?

Sep 19, 2:27PM EDT0

Rarely, I have images from a couple of projects avaliable through stock agencies but I don't sell much through them.

Sep 19, 4:52PM EDT0
Show all 3 replies

Can you share a link to your facebook, twitter, website please so I can follow you?

Sep 19, 1:38PM EDT0

sure!My website is www.lewisbush.comon Twitter I'm @lewiskaybushon Instagram I'm @lewis__bush

Sep 19, 4:52PM EDT0


Sep 20, 9:50PM EDT0

What is the strangest subject you have ever researched?

Sep 19, 1:33PM EDT0

Definitely this! I've come across some other strange things along the way though, like research into psychic spies, but nothing that I have seriously got into researching.

Last edited @ Sep 20, 4:44PM EDT.
Sep 19, 4:59PM EDT0
Show all 3 replies

Hi. Congratulations on exceeding your funding goals!!

How difficult was it to develop images for the transmitting sites? How did you ascertain the location of the transmitters?

Sep 19, 12:31PM EDT0

Yes it involved comparising information from lots of sources. In some cases I'm not convinced that the location those sources point to is even the correct one, so part of the book is about the doubt and uncertainity that I think is inherent to a topic like this,

Sep 19, 4:54PM EDT0

Aren't you worried about your safety?

Sep 19, 12:08PM EDT0

Not particularly. All the research behind the book is based on materials already in the public domain, all I have done is to collect these different sources and put them together.

Sep 19, 4:58PM EDT0
Show all 3 replies

With all the modern technology in use today, do you think numbers stations are still used?

Sep 19, 11:54AM EDT0

Hard to say. It seems that more advanced countries have mostly stopped using them, which suggests there is some more modern alternative avaliable to them. But for countries which have less sophisticated technology it seems like numbers stations remain a very safe way for them to communicate with their agents. Unlike digital communications they can not be traced.

Sep 19, 4:57PM EDT0
Show all 3 replies

Do you have a Flikr account I can see?

Sep 19, 9:51AM EDT0

Sorry, afraid not! But most of my work is on my website:www.lewisbush.com

Sep 19, 4:54PM EDT0
Show all 3 replies

Do you do the reseach yourself or do you work with a team?

Sep 19, 9:43AM EDT0

I do the research myself, but some of it based off secondary research already undertaken by other people like historians and radio enthusiasts. Some of it is primary research conducted by me using declassified documents and similar sources.

Sep 19, 4:55PM EDT0
Show all 3 replies

What inspired you to do what you are doing now?

Sep 19, 6:14AM EDT0

I'm not sure if you mean photography or this project. In terms of photography it was a sense that it was a great way to speak to people about quite complex ideas and issues without them being put off. In terms of this project it was a feeling that this topic was a great way to talk more generally about issues around intelligence gathering, politics and democracy.

Sep 19, 5:00PM EDT0
Show all 3 replies

I see from your campaign page that you have already superceded your financial goal for this project.  What advice can you give to others thinking of starting a crowdfunding campaign?

Sep 19, 4:52AM EDT0

Someone else asked a similar question and I'd give the same advice: make sure the thing you are crowdfunding really has the potential to engage people, plan a strategy for who you are going to advertise it to, put some time into really making the campaign page look good, and then just go for it!

Sep 19, 5:01PM EDT0

Great advice - thank you!

Sep 20, 7:14PM EDT0

What was your inspiration behind this project?

Sep 18, 11:47PM EDT0

I felt it was a great way to explore issues about intelligence gathering, accountability, and democracy. Also the stations themselves are just quite freaky, after hearing them I just really wanted to explore them more.

Sep 19, 5:02PM EDT0
Show all 3 replies
About #CrowdfundingAMA

Welcome to #CrowdfundingAMA, an AMA Event channel all about Crowdfunding.

The #CrowdfundingAMA channel (http://www.CrowdfundingAMA.com) is owned and operated by AMAfeed, LLC.