It was a Sunday morning in December 2022 when I discovered a melon in a still life photo by American photographer Bobby Doherty. It seemed somehow weird: somewhere between a papaya, kiwi, and tropical flower. What is this surreal and beautiful fruit? My confusion was resolved in the following slide: a variant of a picture that I already knew from his portfolio. It was a macro shot of climbing ropes and a safety hook, only this time it flowed smoothly but strangely into the head of a snake.
In the image caption he wrote: "rendering myself obsolete".
Doherty, who was a staff photographer at New York magazine for many years, had figured out how to get the AI image generator Midjourney to generate images in his unique hyper-real style. The images have the look, composition, and visual power of his photos, except they also include imaginary and hybrid objects.
This was a watershed moment for me: what does it mean for photography if digital image generation is no longer a niche playground for tech professionals and fantasy fans, but a bonafide tool for image professionals? What does it mean for photography if AI can produce images that are almost indistinguishable in quality and style from professional productions, in seconds and in infinite variations?
I am a picture editor and cultural scientist, I live in Hamburg and work for Zeitverlag, one of Germany's largest publishing houses. In my daily work, I commission photographers and illustrators to produce images that illustrate articles in magazines and newspapers. I am constantly observing the market to see what new developments there are. I first realized how things might be changing in the industry two years ago, in my jury work for the exhibition "Gute Aussichten - Young German Photography": we honored the thesis of photography student, Konstantin Weber, who, instead of taking pictures and framing them, invested all his time in training an AI to generate and iterate an infinite stream of landscape photography. Then I noticed a tendency in fashion photography to integrate highly complex, highly imaginative 3D environments, in which real models are embedded in dystopic sci-fi sceneries (Frederik Heyman) or surreal dreamscapes (Cho Gi-Seok). And finally, since the release of Wall-E, Stable Diffusion and Midjourney in the summer of 2022, more and more artists from other fields, who are not photographers, are coming up with amazing image concepts and ideas that no one could have dreamed of before (take a look at the compelling images of Indian screenwriter Patreek Arora).
For me these developments have been fascinating, confusing and, have fostered a lot of conversations with friends and colleagues. For my own sanity and your comfort, I decided to build a space to review, reflect and collect all information I can find about the use of digital means in photography in one spot. dots per inch will be about artists and photographers engaging with AI photography, I will look at the use of digital filters in social media, at CGI in car photography and digital renderings in product photography. I would also like to re-visit the history of computer based image generation (which started in the 1960s) and the panic that digital photography caused back in the 1990s. I want to showcase projects and ask artists, curators, and theorists why they are working with digital media and what they think photography could look like in 5, 10, 15 years.
By the way, the picture accompanying this article shows the first illustration created with Midjourney that I published in the magazine ZEIT Campus as picture editor. The credit goes to our graphic designer Frieder, who varied prompts for hours, until a silver monolith representing ChatGPT was created. Like the character in the illustration looking for a dialogue with the machine, I want to use dots per inch to start an attempt to better understand what is happening right now. Join me on this journey.
Find more examples of Bobby Doherty’s AI art here and here
For an ultimate introduction to AI image generation and the confusion it caused in professional photography scene, please read Can We No Longer Believe Anything We See? by Tiffany Hsu and Steven Lee Myers
AI Images vs. Reality Quiz by Feature Shoot
Thanks for reading dots per inch! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
I recently did this post on why we need a few term for photography https://davidyoungart.substack.com/p/what-is-photography
Will AI make also food and money?