Or is it? The medium is evolving. Again.
Let me start by saying that I am old school - a dinosaur - who shoots film on an old M6. I am smiling a little here, because the number of debates I have had discussing digital vs analog is extensive. I realize that AI is a new thing, but is it really? Are we not talking about pressing the 'enhance' button on our digital camera, 'add effect' on the laptop, etc.? Is this not already a series of processes to take a photograph and change it to something different. There are of course degrees of change, but how many times have we not seen competitions won or lost by people who have merged images, or artificially improved in some sense using technology. I think we are long past the split in the family tree. Analog to the left, digital to the right. Perhaps this is just digital splitting again into 'AI digital' and 'pure digital'. I assume 'pure digital' at least starts with a camera of some sort and a string of 1s and 0s on a card.
I don't have the answers, but am moved by those in the digital space who are outraged by this. Wasn't there something about an ant-eater that was stuffed showing up in a night photograph by some nature photographer wiz-kid that won a major competition? I was outraged then. Now, I just smile.
We get what we deserve. We keep challenging the boundries. It seems the chicken has come home to roost. Or perhaps the elephant in the room has laid an egg. I am sure AI could come up with a deceptively elegant photograph of that too.
Wow, this leaves me rather pissed off at Sony. AI images are visual art and absolutely should not be considered Photography. Saying Post-Photography is an insult to all photographers. This is more a kin to painting and collage. That said in my opinion most commercial digital photography should be called mixed media (if you manipulate the image more than light and color balance). Very happy to hear that he refuses the prize. Weird situation.
I think it's interesting that despite both the artist himself and AI being very clear that his image is not photography, we still want to ask "Or is it." No. It's not. It's photographic certainly, but as he explicitly states, it's not photography. Even technically it's not photography. It doesn't capture light on a surface or sensor. It analyzes data to create the proximity of it.
There is no subject being captured. No scenery. Only recreations based on data. While you can certainly train or limit the data set, there is no truly controlled composition. No ability to shoot the same subject from a different angle. Every shot is a new creation. Only a button to press until you get something that clicks. Oh wait....That last one sounds just like photography. ;) But it's still not photography.
The three images along side each other are a great illustration, literally and figuratively, as the women are not the same. There are subtle changes in hair, clothing, facial features...because you aren't capturing a real subject. Only a proximity based on the available data. Photography captures real subjects and memories and truth. AI will never be able to do that.
I think that while Boris may certainly be kickstarting the conversation on AI's entry into the photography space, it's been well on it's way in other mediums. There has often been a dismissiveness of the concerns, which unsurprisingly shifts when AI shows up on a new doorstep. I think as AI becomes more ubiquitous, we'll see a degree of backlash to it. I can see regulations created or unions getting involved. At the very least, I hope to see a rise in folks who want to keep it in it's own lane, have it be clearly identified and perhaps an increased value placed on tangible art. The real deal will become more precious, like a resurgence of vinyl over Spotify or MP3s.
Using a bot to answer questions about bot images...yeah, I'd say it's getting a little warm in here.
First, there's nothing that can be done digitally or with AI that Jerry Uelsmann wasn't doing better in a wet darkroom 40 years ago. Second, there's a reason why the really big stars like Keanu Reeves and Tom Cruise do their own stunts despite the availability of CGI. I wrote about this a few weeks ago.: Pro photography isn't dead; it isn't even sick.
Hope you don't mind the link below.
I love this thought provoking discussion. Personally, as a photogram maker and photography teacher, my definition of photography doesn’t require the use of a camera per se but rather the use of a sensor or light-sensitive emulsion. I love this age-old debate, but the added twist of AI and your inside scoop on “The Electrician” might have to be a new element to my high school photography curriculum (source cited of course). Thank you for sharing Andy!
It is not mentioned directly by Andy, but in the linked article, and his own blog, Boris states he was at the Awards ceremony, and his pictures were removed from the show at Somerset House. I was at the awards, having won my category, and Boris was not there. Also, his pics were never up at Somerset House (that I saw from the press preview on, anyway, and, to my knowledge, never). The pics on his blog of him on stage and with his pic at the show? Presumably AI generated.
The special sauce at the core of all great art, visual or otherwise, is that it is the product of the human experience and talent. When we look at Michelangelo’s David, or a scene from Irving Penn’s , Worlds In a Small Room, beyond the beauty, we bear witness to what the human spirit can generate and that perhaps , we too might be capable of such an accomplishment. At the moment, all I can see being inspired to with AI, is a career in programming .
I think we need to separate the most basic aspects. Photography is produced with a camera and on the location of your choice. You need to pay attention to light, framing, your models, maybe model release. You may need to bring your lights, to do a research about the location. If it’s documentary photography, you actually have to go to that place, you can’t deliver an AI image, you MUST go there an do your thing.
Creating imagery or images that look like photographs or using AI generative tools feeding photography, it’s just like when an artists create images using a technique like the collage. The main difference here is you have access to a gigantic database, it is like the autofill in your phone but in steroids. So I do not think the term photography or the world of photography is in any danger, at least not to those with more knowledge and understanding about photography and newer technologies.
Can we say this person who win a contest is an artist? Yes, because artists use many mediums to achieve diferente results. Is this a material for a photography contest? Personally, I don’t think so, I think AI artists need their own contests because they do not work “on the field” <- main difference. They work at home, curating and editing, which is just a part of a more complex process.
For me it is not about a memory, it’s about human contact, the core of photography is human contact, so access to a big database to build imagery related to keywords… it’s not human contact. It may be a conceptual art that may touch people’s emotions, but is a totally different process.
I think the key is to understand if we are artists who use photography as a medium or any medium to express ourselves.
Hey and let’s not forget this. By using AI, you are removing yourself from the abstraction process, because you depend totally of the generative tool. That is the only thing I don’t like about AI tools… we as artists (I do illustration too), need the power of abstraction. There is nothing more beautiful than having the power to bring your ideas into drawings with just your hands.
Thanks, Andy, for posting the first good and truly interesting images I've seen made with text generation tools. This is not super easy to do with a camera or with text prompts. Hats off to Boris Eldagsen.
Should such images win a photography competition? No. "Photography" is a method or means, and not an end state. The end state is "image". Should the source of an image be disclosed in the context of a competition? Probably. What resonates with a viewer is "image". Are they interested in how that image was formed? Maybe, maybe not.
Film photography is a chemical accident, and digital photography replicates that with electrons. There is no art implied there, only documentation. The art is in the application. The chemical process of scribing light to film is unlikely to produce a masterpiece on its own. Likewise, AI on its own is unlikely to produce a masterpiece. Both, guided by some human creative determination, have a chance. Tools. All tools.
These AI generated images are awesome! But Boris did the right thing by not accepting the award. The awards now need to change up their guidelines to include AI images (if they so deem it photography) or to have a separate contest with the use of AI.
Thank you for opening up the discussion on your platform. Highlighting Boris' recent win is terrifying, exciting, and forward-thinking. Artists have always pushed the limits of their mediums; found new ways to express themselves. Boris and Sony did so by accident, or maybe not, to get ahead of the conversation, make distinctions, and preserve the medium we love, photography.
Anyone who understands the process of photography can wholeheartedly reaffirm that his beautifully evocative images are indeed not photographs; not photography, however, they are photographic. Boris opens a path for those who don't have the skills or means to master photography but are wonderfully creative and have mad communication skills to create the images in their mind. It's a new medium. It is a new way of creative expression for those who understand technology and are not afraid to play around with it.
I say let's embrace it! Let's define the new medium by preserving and honoring the forms that came before it. And to be honest, if I can use AI to edit my pictures instead of the monster that is Photoshop, then I'm all for it!
Excellent article Andy! I think the definition of photography got blurred w digital, photography and editing, but still w/in the bounds of interaction between human eye/brain, device, and what is seen.
AI lies outside those boundaries. Also, like all technologies, AI will be abused, used by those who are criminally minded to distort social reality, financial reality. Political reality. Reality period. It already is. And the US is woefully behind in dealing w mind bending tech and warped realities
AI goes way beyond photography and that concerns me
Thanks for one of the better responses to AI that I’ve read.
It’s not HIS photography, that is true. But nonetheless it is a form of re-photography or digital word collage and whether we like it or not, it’s still coming and it’s still here.