OK, you made an AI-image. What the heck am I supposed to be looking at?

Mar 25, 2024

Don Giannatti

Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe

OK, you made an AI-image. What the heck am I supposed to be looking at?

Mar 25, 2024

Don Giannatti

Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe

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OK, you made an AI-image. What the heck am I supposed to be looking at?

AI content is everywhere now, but I have never been told why I should care. I really want to know how I should respond to AI imagery.

Nice image of a saguaro cactus next to an arch in southern Utah titled “Photograph of The Arches”. It’s not. It’s AI. A smiling man sitting in front of a cake he just baked according to the caption. It’s not. It’s AI. A “portrait” of a woman taken in Spain titled; “Spanish woman in the light.” It’s not. It’s AI.

When you show me something made by AI, what do you want me to see?

I sincerely want to know. For example: You show me something you think is really cool; a picnic basket on the side of a stream.

OK, you made an AI-image. What the heck am I supposed to be looking at?
Created by Adobe Firefly

It’s sharp, with good colour, some shallow DoF, and composed in an acceptable, if not altogether creative, way.

So, what am I looking at?

A photograph? Surely not. Not in any possible description of the artefact, could it be called a photograph. That stream doesn’t exist and has never existed. Nothing in or out of the basket has ever existed. The light isn’t real, nor is the softly receding focus behind the basket. It simply never existed.

You, the author of this, want me to see what? That you created this?

You didn’t create anything, you prompted it.

Like me saying to an artist, “Paint a basket of cheese and bread along the side of a stream”. And the artist does it. Do I get credit for the piece, or does the artist who made it?

There is a special skill involved in bringing an image into the world, and prompting it is not one of them. Art directors, creative directors, editors, brand managers, and a hundred other job titles prompt people to do something. They do it.

As a creative director, I would tell my art directors to work on a campaign, and they would then find a photographer or illustrator to create the work. I prompted them, and they prompted the artists. And that photographer or illustrator gets the credit for their work because what they do is difficult and takes special skills. They have honed those skills to create their art.

And while creative directors and art directors have skills they have honed, they take credit for their work, and their work alone, not the work of the artist or photographer they ‘prompted’.

“We should separate the art from the creator.”

Really? Yeah, Bucko, that ship has sailed.

Works by artists, composers, photographers, directors, and writers have been removed because something their creators said or did went against the current social common.

There is no art without an artist

I could take a drum machine and craft an incredible drum solo, with impossible sticking, requiring three arms, a piece that no human could ever perform.

Would that be as interesting as listening to a real drummer play a drum solo? One that may look or sound impossible to play?

YouTube video

Would you pay money to listen to a fake drum solo? And if I made the fake drum solo, what, exactly, would I want you to hear? Code? Computer sounds? Something that requires no skill at all with sticks and drums and cymbals and stuff?

Meh. That drum machine output requires no skill, no practice, nothing special… at all. It’s a machine. No art.

Let’s get this right out of the way now; I am not talking about AI noise reduction, AI colour palette generators, GPT, or any other AI stuff you wanna play gotcha with. I am talking about AI images being shown to me as a photograph. That is what I am focused on.

So when I see a photograph of the Dolomites taken by a photographer who actually climbed them, waited for the light to be what they wanted, and spent effort, time, pain, and money to get that shot, I know that it is a piece of art — or at very least art was attempted. (Whether it is good or bad is not important at this point. Those are subjective terms, and doing all that to get a shot doesn’t make the image good or great by any means.)

When you show me something that looks like the Dolomites rendered in Midjourney, what am I to make of it? What the hell am I looking at?

It took no skill.

(“But I prompted it!” Oh please. I can get prompts anywhere on the net and simply change a word or two. Really.)

You didn’t climb a mountain, wait in the cold, and catch that wonderful moment of light in a brilliant framing. In fact, AI has no frame, so, yeah, that never happens.

I guess it is a rendering of a bunch of data, and even if it is really cool looking, is a result of algorithms, not vision.

OK, you made an AI-image. What the heck am I supposed to be looking at?

Yesterday, I read an article discussing a new piece of AI software that makes “music”.

“Rodriguez sees Suno as a radically capable and easy-to-use musical instrument and believes it could bring music-making to everyone much the way camera phones and Instagram democratized photography. The idea, he says, is to once again “move the bar on the number of people that are allowed to be creators of stuff as opposed to consumers of stuff on the internet.”
— Suno AI

“Bring music to everyone”.

I suppose there are some people who believe that making music is something anyone can do if they get some software. Yeah, I’m sure there are.

I want to know what this part means: “Move the bar on the number of people that are allowed to be creators of stuff…”

Allowed?

No one is forbidden from making music. You only have to learn how to make music. What his dystopian rhetoric attempts to do is to borrow from the victim porn for people who have chosen not to do something but want to get the perks of doing it at the top levels without any expense (money, passion, time, sweat, work).

All that keeps someone from making music is their CHOICE to not learn how.

Read the article by Patrick La Roque.

So tell me what I am supposed to see or think when I see AI stuff cause all I see is less than interesting stock “content” to be thrown in for nothing more than needing a visual thing… content.

And have no interest in content.

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About Don Giannatti

Don Giannatti is a photographer, writer, designer, entrepreneur, and avid motorcyclist. After enjoying a 40-plus-year career as a commercial photographer, he has successfully mentored hundreds of students through his Project 52 Pro system and helped them transition into full or part-time commercial photography. He has owned studios in Phoenix, LA, Chicago, and New York and has been a guest instructor on CreativeLive. You can subscribe to his newsletter In The Frame. This article was also published here and shared with permission.

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13 responses to “OK, you made an AI-image. What the heck am I supposed to be looking at?”

  1. Paul Kroenke Avatar
    Paul Kroenke

    You can create that in Photoshop so what’s the big deal about AI ai is a joke

  2. Adobe Firefly Avatar
    Adobe Firefly

    Tell me what I am supposed to see when I see a picture. Or artsy stuff in general. For some, 5kg of butter in a corner is a revelation. A statement. For some, it is disgusting. Junk. Some think Modigliani’s paintings of women are pretty, some call them scandalous. Sexist. I am not even sure what to think if I run across a “photographer, designer, writer, entrepreneur who writes and speaks on mentorship, creativity, and the arts”. And, since you have been talking a lot and also about choices: Yes, that is exactly the point in art. Also, your comparison of “Photography” vs. “AI” sucks in so many ways: First thing artists need to learn is to not take themselves and what they do so seriously.

    1. Paul Shakespeare Avatar
      Paul Shakespeare

      “First thing artists need to learn is to not take themselves and what they do so seriously.” Really?? We’d better wake up Van Gogh, Shakespeare, Mozart etc and tell them to chill out – nobody wants their pretentious sincerity because we now live in a world where fake=truth. This comment perfectly illustrates the dismissive glib attitude toward art that accelerates the whole dumbing-down of society.

      Reply

  3. Nicolas B. Avatar
    Nicolas B.

    It is an interesting take on it, and i mostly agree, maybe just not this part:
    “That drum machine output requires no skill, no practice, nothing special… at all”

    As creating a crazy drum machine interesting pattern/sound research takes actually a lot of skill and creativity if you want something which will be actually good.

    Using a machine to create versus Using your hand to create is not a good analogy with AI
    You could probably say the same in this way: “Photography take no skill, it is not like painting”.
    Which is wrong as well, we all know why.

  4. Tunes Firwood Avatar
    Tunes Firwood

    TL;DR: photographer rants about AI images being too easy, missing the point.

    AI images serve the same role as stock images: they’re visual padding. The value of an image with no particular significance isn’t affected by how it was made: pointless photos are worth the same.

  5. Youtuber Avatar
    Youtuber

    Perhaps watch this one from Cleo Abrams: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ey75Xw_ikqs

    It’s perhaps a little shallow and lighthearted for the nerdy apocalypse apostles out there but it brings the message across. tl;dnr: AI enables people to be creative who do not have or do not want to aquire the technical skills that used to be necessary for creating art. Those people nevertheless have inspiration and visions which separate artists from craftsmen.

    Nothing wrong with craftsmen though.

  6. Lorenzo Colloreta Avatar
    Lorenzo Colloreta

    what a mess!

    content is a product
    art is content that reach beyond its own purpose,
    stock photography is orphan content waiting for (a maybe never coming) purpose,
    i guess they represent the two extremes of the same concept
    stock content could become art if you put it in the right context
    and art could become a mindless stock prop, like when you put the Monna Lisa on your apron (that’s also called “kitsch”)
    both are products

    an “artist” can use whatever tool he she wants to create a product, even content from others
    a stock “photographer/illustrator”, same thing

    GenAI IS NOT A PRODUCT, is a tool to create a product (image or sound or whatever)
    a new, indisputably revolutionary, way to create content.
    It’s revolutionary in the pure sense of the word: meaning it can’t be used as other tools, it’s mediated, it’s a conversation, it’s “demultiplied” and “dearticulated” from the creator physical actions. So any attempt to compare it to other tools are destined to be illogical and will always look like “fatigue” vs “nothing”.

    If I say in a music website that an orchestra director is a fake stupid job because he does not play any instrument (even could ignore how to play anu instrument) I guess I would be lapidated.

    If I say in a sports website that a F1 drive is a fake stupid job because he does not assemble nor engineer his engine (even could ignore hot to tune one) I guess I would be lapidated.

    I think it’s the same here.

    Lately ranting against GenAI tools there’s an incredible mess between “art” and “content” and between “artist” and “maker”.

    A picnic basket is a picnic basket. In the right context could become a piece of art or stay completely under the radars. If you’re a seller of picnic baskets you could pay some dimes for that, even if you don’t see a work of art, you see dignity.

    Moreover, there’s this incredible modus operandi when ranting against new tools:
    – a photographer could be bad or good
    – a painter could be bad or good
    – someone using GenAI HAVE TO BE BAD by definition….

    …please… you want to talk about the (un)inspiration of GenAI content? Show us some GOOD GenAI content, not a picnic basket.

    Could I post the photo of my shoes shot by error into my camera and say “hell what is that, is that photography?”.. Well yes it’s photography, it’s just a wrong example.

    As always, my two cents.
    (second time I write on a webpage in my life, second time on this website)

  7. Lorenzo Colloreta Avatar
    Lorenzo Colloreta

    what a mess!

    content is a product
    art is content that reach beyond its own purpose,
    stock photography is orphan content waiting for (a maybe never coming) purpose,
    i guess they represent the two extremes of the same concept
    stock content could become art if you put it in the right context
    and art could become a mindless stock prop, like when you put the Monna Lisa on your apron (that’s also called “kitsch”)
    both are products

    an “artist” can use whatever tool he she wants to create a product, even content from others
    a stock “photographer/illustrator”, same thing

    GenAI IS NOT A PRODUCT, is a tool to create a product (image or sound or whatever)
    a new, indisputably revolutionary, way to create content.
    It’s revolutionary in the pure sense of the word: meaning it can’t be used as other tools, it’s mediated, it’s a conversation, it’s “demultiplied” and “dearticulated” from the creator physical actions. So any attempt to compare it to other tools are destined to be illogical and will always look like “fatigue” vs “nothing”.

    If I say in a music website that an orchestra director is a fake stupid job because he does not play any instrument (even could ignore how to play anu instrument) I guess I would be lapidated.

    If I say in a sports website that a F1 drive is a fake stupid job because he does not assemble nor engineer his engine (even could ignore hot to tune one) I guess I would be lapidated.

    I think it’s the same here.

    Lately ranting against GenAI tools there’s an incredible mess between “art” and “content” and between “artist” and “maker”.

    A picnic basket is a picnic basket. In the right context could become a piece of art or stay completely under the radars. If you’re a seller of picnic baskets you could pay some dimes for that, even if you don’t see a work of art, you see dignity.

    Moreover, there’s this incredible modus operandi when ranting against new tools:
    – a photographer could be bad or good
    – a painter could be bad or good
    – someone using GenAI HAVE TO BE BAD by definition….

    …please… you want to talk about the (un)inspiration of GenAI content? Show us some GOOD GenAI content, not a picnic basket.

    Could I post the photo of my shoes shot by error into my camera and say “hell what is that, is that photography?”.. Well yes it’s photography, it’s just a wrong example.

    As always, my two cents.
    (second time I write on a webpage in my life, second time on this website)
    L.

  8. Eric Moss Avatar
    Eric Moss

    First off, ‘AI’ isn’t actual AI, it is synthetic plagiarism of actual work someone else did and is not being credited for. The point of anything labeled a ‘photo’ is to make the viewer wish they could have been there to witness that moment. The further an image gets from that being possible, the more it should be explicitly labeled an edited or synthesized image, and if the image results from answering prompts instead of being there or knowing how to draw/paint/composite, the less it deserves to waste my g*dd*mned time. Facebook is being inundated with crappy mishmashes of plagiarized images from bot accounts claiming them to be something they aren’t, and congratulated with vacuous bot comments. F that noise.

  9. Florian Patzke Avatar
    Florian Patzke

    Ridiculous. “spent effort, time, pain, and money to get that shot, I know that it is a piece of art — or at very least art was attempted.” It’s not art, it’s craft, even if it takes effort. It is only art if it challenges (or has the potential to challenge) your perception of perception. I don’t know why the English (American) language is so imprecise in this regards. There is “Art”, and there is “Craftsmanship”. A Crafts(wo)man is capable of creating Art, but that doesn’t make him or her “an Artist” A photographer is not “an Artist”, a painter is not “an Artist” and a musician is not “an Artist” because they CAN create art, only when they DO it. And if someone puts in the effort to create a piece that stirs emotions in its spectators and challenges their perception of perception, then it is a piece of Art, and the creator “an Artist”, no matter what Craft the author used. For all other stuff he is just “a Craftsman”, like the photographer, the painter and the musician…

  10. Jeremiah Alfrey Avatar
    Jeremiah Alfrey

    We’ve been living with and labeling the output of machines as art for decades now. The machine just got a lot better.
    Real musical instrument have been replaced with synthesizers of all types. Does it require some skill to play or program them. Yes.
    Real painted renderings of landscapes have been replaced by machine produced images via cameras and printers. Does it take some skill to compose a photo. Yes
    Stone carvers have been making lifelike busts forever. Now we have injection molded copies mass produced or 3d printed versions. Does it take skill to make the original. Yes

    For art be worth anything it either must be one off and sold for a huge sum to support the artist or semi unique and partially mass produced so it can be sold to more people at a lower cost. We are now at the stage of democratization of the tools to make art. Lower the barrier to entry as low as possible and we get a whole lot more unique art. The downside is those who were making art and struggling are now competing with anyone who wants to give it a shot.

    The real risk is not to artists it to to society at large. If AI can find any niche where it outperforms or is cheaper than conventional labor it will take those profits and feed it back into the system to make a better AI system. As we get farther into AI replacing humans we will put a lot of people out of work.

  11. Johnny Peterson Avatar
    Johnny Peterson

    Dorit StrandgaardYeah, I’ve made a bunch of ai images with trump, usually with words like cheeseburgers, KFC, obese…etc.

  12. Lance A. lewin Avatar
    Lance A. lewin

    Hello, Don!

    Indeed, A.I generated photographic imagery (e.g., still, videotaping and cinema) is quite annoying … wait, actually, it is quite disturbing! In commercial photography I see where it can benefit a firm in meeting deadlines (e.g., like the bread and cheese basket image). In this sense, who care how this was created, as long as the message is effectively related to potential customers.

    However, as it relates to photography used to create art, or even more troubling, photo-journalism, photo-essays and visual sociology, then we have a problem! In these contexts A.I. generated imagery is interfering with readers/viewers perceived epistemic connection to photographic images – or how photographic images connects us to the “real”, compared to a painting, for example.

    In my opinion, if the artist wants to use A.I. generated photographs, then full disclosure is necessary (hopefully indicated next to the title of the work). However, A.I. generated photographic imagery has no place within any type of documentary reporting/research. Period.

    Lance A. Lewin
    PSA Global B&W Photography Mentor
    International Visual Sociology Association North American-Canada Think Tank
    lance.visualizingart@gmail.com