Embrace or reject AI?

The use of AI-generated images in photography raises concerns. AlternativePhotography.com emphasizes human-created art through learning, inspiration, and connection within the photography community. We don’t allow AI-generated texts and images since what we stand for is the creativity and value of handmade art created by human photographers and artists. Read why.

Writer / Malin Fabbri
Image / kjpargeter on Freepik

Ai or not? Image by kjpargeter on Freepik
Image by kjpargeter on Freepik

By now you all have heard of ChatGPT which cleverly writes texts, and Midjourney, Dall-E or other generative AI tools that can produce images in seconds. There have also been many discussions in our Facebook Group on the topic and we have had to make an addition to our rules “Only publish images YOU own the copyright to” asking people to refrain from AI-generated images. Most agree, but some don’t, so I thought I’d clarify what I mean and why.

Just a quick explanation about the term generative AI, it is called generative because it creates something that did not exist before, in contrast to discriminative AI that answers questions such as “Is this image a dinosaur or a giraffe?” Generative AI would obey prompts like “Draw a dinosaur and a giraffe dancing together”.

I am no technophobe. I have been playing with Midjourney with my teenagers, creating images of a frog lifting weights, and a centaur of one of the kids combined with a horse, and so on… and it’s fun. A lot of fun. I have also used ChatGPT whilst helping one of my teenagers with his geometry math homework since I have long forgotten the Pythagorean theorem. I also used it with my other teenager to get ideas for an essay he was writing. For this kind of usage, I am all for embracing this new technology. And, there are, of course, many good examples of uses for AI, as a tool for the industry and healthcare; these can save both time and lives but then, of course, it is carefully implemented and regulated.

The use of AI in alternative photographic processes is a whole different matter. Is what we do about saving time and generating the most significant quantity of images? Using a computer instead of our own creativity? Is that why we took up photographic processes? Or is it to be mindful of our art in the present moment? Create something unique by hand? Or simply take our eyes off the screen for a while and “get our hands dirty”?

I have been running AlternativePhotography.com for 23 years, and the philosophy has always been to help photographers and artists learn, find inspiration and connect. Learning from others and doing their own research, get inspired by others’ creativity and connection through events, groups and the community.

In terms of learning, of course, tools such as Chat GPT can be used to find the answer to almost anything, and it could be a good starting point for research. But, as with Google before ChatGPT, all responses to queries have to be used with source criticism, and even more so these days, when trolling and fake news is abundant, though perhaps not as much in photographic processes from the 19th century as with news items.

We are also starting to see people wanting to take shortcuts and adverts to make a quick buck by “writing a book in minutes with ChatGPT”. There is no such thing as a free lunch. In this case, you pay by sacrificing quality. We are already seeing an influx of poorly written AI-generated books on the market, and this is just the beginning.

In our small niche of photography, it is even more important to check facts. If you ask ChatGPT to explain any of our highly specialist processes such as Platinotype or Chrysotype you will find the facts are often wrong as AI picks from all sorts of text on the internet and creates a mishmash of everything. Generative AI is prone to a phenomenon known as “hallucinations,” where it simply makes up information when there isn’t enough relevant information. These errors can be hard to spot, and it’s easy to assume that an answer delivered in the credible and idiomatic language that Chat GPT and other models produce is correct, even if it’s wrong. We will therefore not allow texts written by AI. Texts that are written and fact-checked by humans is what we do. As you most likely have seen in the news, clever people with a lot of power are discussing the legislation and uses of AI and fact-checking. In the future, this may well change, and this is good. But, on our website, articles and books will still be written by humans. That is what we do.

Learn, get inspired and connect

Photographers and artists have always been at the centre and the heart of what we do. Inspiration can be found in our galleries and in entries in our events as well as work posted in our Facebook group, and all these sources have always been a huge source of inspiration to others. Many photographers and artists have reported to me that they started their creative journey when they saw someone’s colourful Gum bichromate print in the gallery or were mesmerized or intrigued by a Vandyke with its classic look in our Facebook group.

The feedback during our events, such as World Anthotype Day, where images are made from plants all over the world and shared, or our Anna Atkins tribute event where cyanotypes were made in the same way as in the 1840s, is what keeps us doing what we do. The passion people display for these quirky processes shines through and brightens our days. I believe that many photographers and artists feel the same after receiving great feedback on their work. The work we will accept in our galleries and events is – and will continue to be – work created by photographers and artists themselves. Yes, I have heard the argument that “if I create an AI-generated image I have the copyright”. Sure, it may be so—or now—but we will still only allow images created by the artist themselves. Why? Because it is simply not particularly creative to type a few prompts, get the Midjourney or Dall-E to generate a cyanotype, and then claim it as your own. That is not what we stand for. There is also the issue of intellectual property. Who owns the AI-generated image or text? If the AI learns from a copyrighted image or text, then it has plagiarized the work for producing the new image, even if it’s not pixel by pixel or word by word. I believe we will see quite a few cases going to court on this, there have already been a few, and even if there had not been any cases, I still feel it’s morally wrong. And, as if that was not enough, the energy consumption used to create generative art is large. It demands large computing power to produce these images, when instead you can use your own kitchen and the sun.

There are many communities where AI-generated images are embraced and can be shared, but our website and community are not one of them. Create something yourself, be proud of it and share it.

Can you use digitally altered images? Yes, you can. If you use Photoshop as a tool to combine YOUR OWN photos and create a negative, no problem, then it’s still YOUR thoughts and concept. Share your own ideas, and embrace the creativity of doing so.

When you connect in our community, please respect this and also help other artists by giving feedback, liking and sharing their images created by human hands. An image, where an artist has thought of a concept, created the image, processed it and shared it, just has so much higher creative value than an AI-generated image. Please help by promoting handmade art when using our Facebook grouForme, t or our website.

The essence of AlternativePhotography.com

For me, the core of using alternative photographic processes is to get OFF the screen and to get your hands dirty. We all use digital tools, such as a digital camera to take pictures, photoshop to create a digital negative, a scanner to scan the final print, online galleries where we post images and social media to share them. Many of us spend far too much time in front of a screen, and whether making Kallitypes is a hobby or creating Wet Plate Collodions is a profession, it is done In Real Life, IRL. Perhaps you have a fully equipped photo lab where you print Chrysotypes or perhaps you use your own kitchen to experiment with Anthotypes. Perhaps on your own, or in a workshop, or with friends. Whichever shape your practice takes, the essence of AlternativePhotgraphy.com is to promote unique and handmade art generated by human photographers and artists. We live in a fast-changing world, and we all need a break from time to time from the digital onslaught of the world and our screens, and for that reason, it is human-created art that we do.

Malin Fabbri is the editor of AlternativePhotography.com

7 thoughts on “Embrace or reject AI?”

  1. Hi Phil,
    Of course it can (and is) used as a tool to create images. But, I don’t find it particularly creative to type in two words into Dall-E and get an image. I also find it morally wrong to snatch bits and pieces from other artists work and call it your own creation.

  2. AI is a tool. Nothing more; nothing less. It is a slippery slope to say that digitally captured images, modified with digital tools is OK, but, that somehow the introduction of a different type of software tool is disqualifying.

    Photoshop can be used to create elaborate montages that are not in any way shape or form representative of reality. Conversely, AI can be used to simply clean-up, up-scale or modify an existing image. There is a wide range of uses and variations possible with both tools. And yet, you seem to be saying that Photoshop is OK, and AI is not. Not because of HOW the tool is used in the creation of a particular image, or the manifestation of the final result, but because of the use of the tool itself.

    This argument is reminiscent of the argument against photography as an Art Form in the 19th Century. I.e. that it’s too easy to create a realistic representation of reality using photography and therefore it should not be considered a “legitimate” Art form.

    AI, much like photography is a tool that can be used to create images. Images that may or may not represent reality. In and of itself, AI is NOT photography. But, it can be used in conjunction with photography to create some very compelling images that express the artistic vision of a human being. If it is all done in the digital domain, then I agree it is does not belong here. But, I disagree if the artist’s intent is realized by using AI (perhaps in conjunction with digital photography) – combined with a “traditional” photographic process to produce the final print.

  3. I understand your perspective: I have used many of the techniques promoted on alternative photography and have delighted in the unique experiences that has given me (hours of sun exposure on leaves with anthotypes was a highlight!). And you have every incentive to keep your site focused on hands-on work with light. But I also don’t just do one thing and my recent work in fiber arts has shown me the value of using AI to generate an initial image that I could never create with my hands (I’m old and can’t draw, and have lots of crazy ideas in my head that I want to see). Once printed on canvas or fabric, the image is hand or machine stitched, collaged, painted, made into a quilt, or otherwise generated into something else.

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