Last night I attended an RPS’ online event about AI and the Future of Photography. I have uneducated views about AI, so I want to ensure that I am better informed before passing judgement.
A definition of photography
A good starting point for addressing this entire issue is by defining Photography. In the RPS’ Charter
‘Photography means the Art or Science of the recording of light or other radiation on any medium on which an image is produced or from which any image may by any means be produced.’
Surely from this alone it is clear that AI falls outside of this definition?
However, interestingly enough my Chambers dictionary defines photography as
‘The art or process of producing permanent and visible images by the action of light, or other radiant energy on chemically prepared surfaces’.
This suggests to me that in actual fact PDIs are not photographs. I do often wonder why some clubs in the SCPF are camera clubs and some are photography clubs. I think some have changed their name to ‘photography club’ as an endeavour to be more inclusive of smart phones but quite frankly, I do not see the need because a smart phone has a camera. On that basis, photography clubs should only be producing prints. Bracknell Camera Club is inclusive and perhaps more so on account of the Chambers Dictionary definition of Photography.
But, I digress.
So, where does Artificial Intelligence fit in all of this. It was suggested that an AI generated image is not photography but in fact ‘promptography’ because the image is not formed by the action of light. It is generated by a machine responding to verbal prompts and digging into a library of images previously classified into categories. A great example of this can be seen on page 331 of the May/June 2023 edition of the RPS Journal. You will know the famous photograph of The Afghan Girl that appeared on the front cover of the National Geographic Magazine in 1985. She wears a red scarf, draped around her and her striking eyes stare into the camera.
The President of the RPS, Simon Hill HonFRPS, created an image entirely through verbal prompts and it concluded with an image of a girl who never existed, but you cannot look at the image without it recalling Steve McCurry’s famous photograph. This in fact raises copyright issues. Who is the creator of this image and who owns the rights?
We are already using AI
Of course, we have all been using AI and I am sure most of us who post process do not wish to wash our hands of it entirely. The magic wand has been around for quite some time. We use it for object selection, and this is done through computer vision. The content aware fill, a most welcome feature in Adobe Photoshop, uses generative AI to interpret data, spot patterns and build an algorithm (a set of instructions) to make decisions and come to a conclusion efficiently.
So, where do we draw the line? DeNoise, face masking (and I do not mean the L’Oréal type), iris enhancements, sky overlay are all selective adjustments that use AI. However, my justification is that these tools are only being used to enhance an image that originated from a recording of light onto the sensor of my camera.
Photography Under Threat
There is no doubt that we are starting out on a journey through a major creative revolution. It is natural to feel threatened. Artists/painters felt threatened by the invention of the camera however it kick started a change in direction where artists adopted a different perspective. With the camera delivering an accurate depiction of the subject, the Impressionist movement sprung into being and were inspired to portray emotions and impressions.
So, despite the initial response to Daguerre and Paul Delaroche’s proclamation,
“From today, painting is dead!”
We now know that it sparked a wonderful new movement in art.
Who knows how photographers will rise up to prove our worth in response to this threat?
Fine Art Photography
In the same way that we photographers now, ironically, endeavour to produce something more than ‘a record shot’ but strive to produce images with expressive quality or ‘fine art’ images, perhaps in time those who use ‘promptography’ will come around full circle in years to come, looking to find images that reveal the elements of emotion of which AI is void.
The debate continues but to me, from today, photography is NOT dead.