Photographer in the age of A.I

The physicality, and the conceptual magic is mainly owned by the artist in traditional arts like painting, and sculpture. When it comes to photography, and especially digital photography; the physicality is primarily driven by technology and conceptual presence is still owned by the artist. This I believe, is the fundamental difference between photography with other traditional fine arts. Mechanical aspects of a manual film camera, even darkroom photography is arguably technology, and chemistry-driven although not as much as digital photography.

So far the technical aspects of digital photography were still in control of the photographer and the output could be adjusted for the desired outcome. However, actual output has to be generated through digital means, whether it is a display monitor or software linked printer; making it a technology dependent process. However, the digital aspect of photography has reached far more sophisticated levels than it appears to be, at microscopic and macroscopic levels, and everything in between. Not just in terms of powerful sensors, high-resolution tera-pixel images; overall quality of the supporting equipment has significantly improved in the last two decades. With the help of sophisticated technologies a photographer, today can capture once unimaginable and unreachable images with very high accuracy and very less risk to one’s life. Individuals and systems can even create imagery from extremely remote locations, and even from outer space using instruments that may not even look like cameras. 

Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) is not new and it is certainly not specific to photography alone. Today the presence of A.I, although in its infancy, can be seen almost everywhere, from self-driving cars to helping bots etc. Regarding digital photography, using Cornell University developed a technology called Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs)[1], technology company Nvidia is been developing software that can create realistic images of people, objects, automobiles, interiors of homes, and so on. Other tech companies might also be researching in this area as well. [2] This will have major impacts on human life at various degrees, and levels.

Systems that can distinguish the fake from the authentic in every possible information distribution aspect, must be put in place. Collectors, museums, and institutions will have to be more vigilant. The jobs of editors, curators, teachers, and critics will garner even more expertise and importance.

Photography could withstand the test of time and made a place for itself in the visual arts. Photographers have been contributing to almost every conceivable field in our society. However, things have been changing rapidly and human involvement in (digital) photography is faced with serious and unavoidable challenge from Artificial Intelligence. All types of photography required a significant amount of human involvement, and for a photographer, a fellow photographer was considered immediate competition, until now.

These are the times, I consider to be a transition period from one era to another. Visual culture, in general, would undergo a tremendous change. This however, is a great opportunity for everyone involved with photography to contemplate the past, the present, and the future of the discourse of photography. The role of historical, and alternative processes are going to be extremely crucial in determining the next steps. Photographic education, both in private and public sectors, must evaluate their current curriculums and may need to consolidate subjects, especially the technical ones. Learning objectives and outcomes must be re-designed keeping needs of the learner in mind, in the context of contemporary visual culture, and eventual paradigm shift.

Future students must be introduced to all the new, and critical aspects that could affect photography, and really start focusing on the relevance of photograph, photographer, and photography in the age of A.I.

Sources:

[1] Generative Adversarial Networks, Cornell University Library: https://arxiv.org/abs/1406.2661

[2] The era of easily faked, AI-generated photos is quickly emerging, Quartz: https://qz.com/1115353/new-research-from-nvidia-shows-that-the-era-of-easily-faked-ai-generated-photos-is-quickly-emerging/