With AI, is photography doomed to disappear?

According to the classical definition, artificial intelligence, known as AI, is a process of imitating human intelligence that relies on the creation and application of algorithms executed within a dynamic computer environment. Its goal is to enable computers to think and act like human beings.

Its source? The thousands, millions, billions of pieces of information shared and available on the internet. Prose texts, slang, Alexandrine verses, dialects, analyses, audits, images of landscapes, portraits, still lifes, illustrations with brushes, chalk, spray paint… it’s an XXL inventory à la Prévert that is collected and made available with just a click. This digital deluge quenches our thirst, facilitates our most refined searches, replaces us, but is it really an improved version of ourselves?

Exploring AI: A High-Performance Digital Elixir

According to the classical definition, artificial intelligence, known as AI, is a process of imitating human intelligence that relies on the creation and application of algorithms executed within a dynamic computer environment. Its goal is to enable computers to think and act like human beings.

Its source? The thousands, millions, billions of pieces of information shared and available on the internet. Prose texts, slang, Alexandrine verses, dialects, analyses, audits, images of landscapes, portraits, still lifes, illustrations with brushes, chalk, spray paint… it’s an XXL random list that is collected and made available with just a click. This digital deluge satisfies our thirst, facilitates our most refined searches, replaces us, but is it really an improved version of ourselves?

Mid Journey, Dall-E, ChatGPT 4

The arrival of image generators is also shaking up the codes of traditional photography. In fact, the nuance is crucial: we use the term ‘image’ rather than ‘photography,’ a distinction that is not so insignificant.

The stars of these virtual assistants include Mid Journey, released in July 2022, which, for $10 per month, generates illustrations based on simple text requests. Its latest version gained attention by publishing an image of the Pope dressed in a pristine puffer jacket. The Instagram account of a certain Jos Avery, who has shared beautiful black and white melancholic portraits, is also signed by Mid Journey. Then there’s Dall-E, followed by Dall-2 and Dall-3, each version becoming increasingly sophisticated and better at responding to nuanced requests. ChatGPT in version 4, which can also create at will. These image analysis software tools resonate with our imagination so spectacularly that some images composed by AI have even received prestigious photography awards.

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© Midjourney
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With AI, is photography doomed to disappear?03
With AI, is photography doomed to disappear?04
© Dall-5

An Award That Sparks Unease... Or Not

The image that won the ‘creative category’ prize from the World Photography Organization during the Sony World Photography Awards was, in fact, entirely created by AI following the precise instructions of the photographer Boris Eldagsen. The only drawback to the celebrations is that this image was never captured by a photographic device. It is, therefore, pure fiction, composed of a blend of faces collected from the vast global database, reflecting the requested era and illuminated in the style of black and white photos taken in the 1940s.

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PSEUDOMONIA : Fake Memories

The artist intentionally presented this creation to better denounce the fact that AI is not art, and certainly not photography. ‘These images were imagined,’ he explains, ‘by language and re-edited between 20 and 40 times through AI-powered image generators. I entered this competition with this fake image to see if competitions are willing to welcome AI-assisted works. They are not,’ he continues.

Boris Eldagsen, of course, declined the prize. His intention was to provoke a necessary reflection on photography because, for him, this creation does not in any way constitute art, nor does it align with his own perception, let alone photography. It was an engaging debate with significant implications, but the organizers dismissed it by playing the denial card. The image was purely and simply erased from the ceremony.

Another example is the Digidirect competition, organized by a major Australian photography retailer. The winning photograph was announced on their Instagram account.

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© Jane Eykes « Summer »
With AI, is photography doomed to disappear?07
Behind the pseudonym Jane Eykes is actually a company specializing in AI based in Sydney: Absolutely Ai. The photographer’s name is a nod to the 15th century artist, creator of the most stolen painting in history! The company revealed the deception but unlike the previous price, Digidirect maintained and validated its choice. The authors of the imposture explain: “We did this to prove that we are at a turning point with artificially intelligent technology and which poses the following question: Could an image generated by AI not only go unnoticed ? Our image never existed. Neither this particular beach nor this stretch of ocean. It’s just made up of an infinite amount of pixels, taken from infinite photographs that have been posted online over the years by anyone and everyone.”

A postulate: Reality no longer has a place in photography.

Even though we feel like there’s no turning back, that the genie has definitively escaped from the bottle, and that it still frightens us a bit, in reality, all of this is the logical continuation of all the little adjustments to reality that we’ve all practiced in the darkroom. First, by using masks for developing our analog photos or later by making use of all the image-specific applications that flooded the market for digital photography.

Photoshop, Lightroom, Skylum Luminar, Topaz Labs, and others took over in the digital realm, offering us unparalleled quality and astonishing execution speed. Let’s be honest, we were already amateur sorcerers before the advent of Artificial Intelligence!

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©Epik

Photography as a representation of reality or the world? The image in the press is no longer inherently proof, and with AI, we’ve taken it to the next level. This questioning is abruptly swept aside by its use.

Who will be impacted on the front lines? Certainly a portion of professional photography, such as war reporters, documentarians, those witnesses of history who gauge the world to inform us. We will need to sharpen our eyes for falsifications because AI continues to enrich itself and align with reality as closely as possible. And even if the deception is exposed, unfortunately, deepfakes will have already circled the globe.

AI can also make mistakes in its interpretation. Recently, when artificial intelligence was called upon to search for photos of schools in suburban and French cities, the result was disastrous. By relying on the quantity of images taken in the suburbs recently, particularly during the uprisings in May 2023, AI thus provides a false representation of reality. As for the second request, it’s worth noting that the schools in cities resemble more of a setting from Mary Poppins’ universe than our educational institutions.

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©The Washington Post

This wave called Artificial Intelligence (which some might be tempted to label as malevolent) indeed brings about a radical change. Fur Affinity, a rebellious community, tries to reverse the process like salmon swimming against the current of the river. However, it seems that issuing warnings and establishing ethical guidelines would be more productive than directly battling against this revolutionary and inevitable advancement, as it is within everyone’s reach.

Creative Photography: the big winner in this revolution?

Creativity is always based on what nourishes us. Reading, learning, artistic exhibitions (and not just photographic), travel, concerts or the music we listen to every day, exchanges, philosophy, experiences, … Picasso, Soulages, Ucello , Margaret Cameron, Giacometti, Leonardo da Vinci, Bach or Mozart, all of them too, were touched by works existing at their time and they challenge our imagination in the same way.

Creative inspiration has therefore always relied on that of others. What does AI do today? Each image designed by artificial intelligence relies on millions, billions of elements “borrowed” from as many designers to create something new and quite stunning.

The 'Post-Photography'

This term, coined by American photographer blogger Andy Adams (FlakPhoto Digest), refers to artistic practices that challenge the traditional definition of photography by combining it with other media.

Indeed, today, the creative eye, accompanied by new techniques, does the job. Artists employ and blend various processes, including photography, so it is no longer the sole instrument of creation. It becomes a tool, just like a canvas for painting or musical notes for composing music. Combined with other instruments like drawing or painting, photography offers a whole new richness of expression that delights artists today. Some are already in a middle ground as they incorporate 3D elements or painting into their photos. Michel Redon, a visual artist photographer, is already juggling these innovations, which he considers to be true instruments in the service of his creativity.

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With AI, is photography doomed to disappear?12
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© Michel Redon

The birth of “Promptography”

Let’s go back to Boris Eldagsen, who has decided to name ‘promptographies’ these visual works conceived by an artist in collaboration with AI. A new type of imagery that will undoubtedly multiply in the years to come.

Sensing the business potential, Fabrice Greco, who owns a creative studio in Paris, is already offering a collection of these unique works. The visuals are printed on high-definition photographic paper, providing exceptional quality.

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With AI, is photography doomed to disappear?17

We are witnessing the emergence of an entirely new form of imagery. Today, those who master photography, on the other hand, no longer know how to draw like a painter. Will those who create images always need to have real landscapes in front of them or someone to create a portrait? The words of the French philosopher Edgar Morin come to mind and echo his concern about the fading of complex thinking: ‘I fear superficial intelligence as much as artificial intelligence.’

What are your thoughts on this?

Acknowledgments: Laurent Breillat (Apprendre la photo), Robin Lamorlette (CLUBIC), Stéphane Lecalme (DEVELOPPEZ.COM), Michel Redon 

 

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