The story behind the photo, or is there one? Part DEUX

It was a hot and sweaty day. My friend and I had embarked on a backpacking trip to the communist country of Cuba, and after many misadventures, we had finally made it to Havana. As we walked through the crumbling yet romantically decadent city, it was clear that I had to capture as many photos as I could, to document the moments that only such a place could provide. This brings us to the photo in the previous post, of a man seemingly dozing off in the heat, in front of a crumbling building covered in graffiti. As we walked past the scene depicted in the photo, my eyes were immediately drawn to the many visual elements that appealed to me: the graffiti, the textures in the building, the framing of the architecture, the man’s posture, etc. It also made me think about the faded glory of the place, its history, the man’s story, the poverty, the life. But it was a moment that had presented itself out of the blue, in front of me. So why am I writing about it? Because of the AI contemplation that followed. Because of the black and white photo in the previous post. That photo doesn’t have the same story behind it.

I was in my office, the air conditioning had sucked the moisture out of the air, and I was practicing making AI-generated images. I had started to get a bit jaded by the beautiful AI-generated images and started to think about street photography, which I used to often practice and always get inspired by, seeing other people’s captures of moments on the street. Then it hit me: could I create similar images with AI? I thought about a situation I would create, the person in it, and the context. I then proceeded to create a prompt in Midjourney. I always start with a simple prompt and through iterations, grow the prompt to be more specific and eventually get to an image that resembles the vision in my head. I then fix the distortions in the Midjourney image, for example, the fingers of the person, in Photoshop. I then run the image through Magnific, which adds textures to the skin, asphalt, wood, etc. The end result was relatively convincing, but at the same time, it made me question: what is real? The person in the photo doesn’t exist. It’s a creation of my imagination, my experiences, my skills, and the AI’s code. Yet it feels real and makes you think of perhaps the same themes that the real photo would. Is the emotion any less significant if it was elicited by an artificial image? Would the viewer feel cheated if they found out that the image was created with AI?

I turned to a smarter mind, Google’s Gemini, to ask how authenticity is defined. The response provided interesting insights:

AI-generated art raises questions about authenticity because it is not created by a human hand. However, as you point out, AI-generated images can be highly realistic and evoke similar emotions as real photographs.

One way to think about the authenticity of AI-generated art is to see it as a collaboration between human and machine. While the AI creates the image, the human provides the instructions and edits the final product. In this sense, AI-generated art can be seen as an extension of human creativity.

Capturing the authentic moment

The authenticity of a photograph taken in the moment comes from several factors:

Uniqueness: A photograph captures a unique moment that will never be repeated in exactly the same way.

Context: A photograph provides context for the moment, including the environment, lighting, and people’s expressions.

Emotion: A photograph can convey emotion and mood that is difficult to express in other ways.

Combining AI and human creativity

AI can help us capture authentic moments in new and innovative ways.

For example, AI can be used to:

Enhance creativity: AI can extend human creativity by generating new and surprising images that a human may not have conceived of on their own

Expand possibilities: AI can create images that would be difficult or impossible to create using traditional methods, such as surreal or abstract images.

Provide artistic inspiration: AI can be used to generate new and unique images that can inspire visual artists.

The contemplation became unexpectedly long, but the topic sucked me in. As much as I appreciate the creative freedom and possibilities that AI brings, what is also important to me is the human interaction and energy that comes to life in a photo or film shoot.

Creating in the moment is beautiful when done collectively with other humans. That’s why I believe that real-world photography is not going away and there will be just as much need for it as there will be for AI-generated stories. Next week, I plan to further contemplate the core of my work, which is storytelling, and how AI, in my opinion, affects filmmaking, for example.

P.S. These images, which depict the atmosphere of Cuba, are also AI-generated :)