abstraction, AI, black + white, critical writing, digital image, water

seascapes and generative AI image making

May 21, 2024

It started when the Microsoft backed OpenAI went public in late 2022 with ChatGPT with its new technology of summarization. These new technologies, which process human generated information, are taking the form of being the newest, hottest thing with stock market speculation and investor stampede for AI startups. The hype cycle is in full swing, expectations are bubbling over into euphoria about the potential transformations.  Silicon Valley’s motto is ‘move fast and break things’.

Rolleiflex TLR
seascape+mist

This Large Language Model (LLM) is a technology that makes it cheap and easy to summarize information. They generate general purpose text for chatbots, and perform language processing tasks such as classifying concepts, analysing data and translating text. Usable maps and summaries of big inchoate bodies of information can be incredibly helpful. So are the emerging transformations in human-machine interaction with respect to text, text to images and text to video. Apple, though, appears to have gone missing as it currently lacks a publicly available generative AI product.

AI-generated images are increasingly everywhere in contemporary visual culture with lots of whispers, positive vibes on the street and wild swings in the share prices of infrastructure and software vendors as investors attempt to read the tea leaves of the generative AI market. There is  money in image-generating models. It’s akin to a gold rush.

Sony A7R111
Encounter Bay, 2023

If these cultural technologies are to have long term value, then they require reasonably high quality knowledge to keep on working. AI models are thus built on the backs of out-sourced human labor: people toiling away, providing mountains of training examples for AI systems that corporations can use to make billions of dollars. By themselves the AI do not provide a solution to the garbage-in, garbage-out problem, from the ever increasing disinformation, hallucination and fakery on the internet. So how do they get the right data with all this tainted data? How is that data protected in the applications built on top of the AI platforms? How will they address safeguards around facial recognition? Are safety culture and processes taking a backseat to shiny products?

The tectonic cultural plates are indeed shifting — eg., using Claude on the iPhone indicates that the modern chatbots allow users to now interact with computers through natural conversation–and the newly arrived flirtatious and coquettish GPT-40 that accepts visual, audio, and text input, and generate output in any of those modes from a user’s prompt or request. Creating images through innovative AI generators, such as OpenAI’s art generator DALL-E 3, or Midjourney and Stable Diffusion has become a new form of image production.

5x4 Linhof Technika IV
Encounter Bay seascape

This is based on a text prompt that then turns it into a matching image — it assembles a new images from a database of already existing ones. So the dataset is just a big scrape of the Internet, and  the current legal situation about intellectual property is incredibly murky, given that the AI companies  are using copyrighted images to train their algorithms without asking for consent or offering compensation. 

By the looks of it, AI generated images will have a big immediate impact on stock photography to the extent of replacing Shutterstock-type photography. Adobe is saying in relation to its Firefly AI generator to ‘skip the photoshoot‘, rather than enhancing the photoshoot. The political economy here is simple: Adobe gets the money as Firefly will be used to benefit their makers at the expense of others. At the moment I see the array of new generative “AI” tools to enable me to modify my photographic images as being offered solutions to problems in post-processing that I don’t have.

Pages: 1 2

film, Japan, street, Tokyo

photographing on the streets in Japan

April 11, 2024

Prior to going on the Basho and the Kumano Kodo pilgrim walks I decided to spend some time in the early morning walking the streets in Japan (initially the lively lanes in Shinjuku, Tokyo, then Morioka and Sendai) to make photographs. This was one way to cross the cultural barriers. A photographic layer of this photographic walking was using an old Leica M4 rangefinder and black and white film (Kodak Tmax 400) to supplement the much more versatile digital Sony A7R 111 camera. This connection to modernity’s technologically archaic past helped me to feel at “home” in the global mega city whilst avoiding being the free-floating, postmodern tourist.

Leica M4
NPC, Shinjuku, Tokyo

I wanted to connect to, or link up with, the postwar Japanese black and white film street photography in the late twentieth century: — eg., Shōmei Tōmatsu, Daido Moriyama and Takuma Nakahira — with its candid, spontaneous sunappu images that was broadened by Ishiuchi Miyako and Takeda Hana, and continued with Yasuhisa Toyohara and Ohnishi Mitsugu in the 1980s. My images are a very marginal relationship to this tradition. The classic practitioners, such as Daido Moriyama, and Shōmei Tōmatsu lived in Shinjuku, viewed photography as a way of life, saw themselves either as vagabonds wandering the city streets aimlessly or as stray dogs hunting in the dark alleys of Shinjuku,and produced the short-lived left-wing magazine Provoke (1968–1969).

Though photography has a long historical connection to the city I was only a tourist staying in Shinjuku for 5 days aimlessly wandering amongst its  maze of obscure lanes, bars and eating places.  

Pages: 1 2

film, light, water

light

March 15, 2024

The image below is a continuation of the little experiment that I’d started  a couple of years ago to photograph light itself. At this stage I am not sure whether the experiment will evolve into a series.

This is early morning light over the sea at Encounter Bay looking to the right of  Wright Island across to the Coorong. It  is from the winter of 2022, and it  was  made whilst I  was  walking along Jetty Rd from  Rosetta Head in Victor Harbor on a poodlewalk with Kayla.  The image  was made with Franke & Heidecke’s archaic and retro  Rolleiflex TLR camera.

Pages: 1 2

architecture, people, Tokyo

coded/uncoded Japanese photography

February 25, 2024

Whilst staying in Tokyo I started doing some research about postwar Japanese photography and what has been called the lost decades after the collapse of the 1980s bubble economy. Since photography doesn’t happen in a vacuum I was trying to gain a sense of the world I’d stepped into as a tourist and a photographer. Very little is known about the history of postwar Japanese photography in Australia. I was there prior to the release of OpenAI’s video generator Sora that can create realistic footage up to a minute long that adheres to a user’s instructions on both subject matter and style. It is latest in the AI technologies that summarize and processes human generated information (AIs such as Midjourney and Dall-E are already replacing Shutterstock-type photography).

It was obvious that historically speaking photography in Japan was more or less photography in Tokyo. Historically, the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography (it became the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum after 2016) played a central role in establishing photography, not only as a genre of modern and contemporary art in Japan, but also as a subject of academic study. Its initial canon of photography constructed after its establishment in the 1990s was centred around the postwar photography of the two generations of Japanese-occupation, male photographers.

It was Kaneko Ryūichi, a curator and photo historian at the Photographic Art Museum, who recognized that the photobooks made in the 1960s and ‘70s represented the golden age of Japanese photobooks. These photobooks  suggest that Japanese postwar photography was less a by-product of Western culture and more a direct response to the political and social constraints that dominated postwar Japan in the shadow of the atomic-bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the American occupation and Japan’s emergence from the ashes of war into a prosperous nation with a booming consumer economy  in the 1960s and 1970s.  

Whilst in Japan various conversations with people indicated that the Japan I was walking in as a tourist was the post-bubble Japan with its significant overhang of the lost decade of the 1990s on the present. The 1990s was a period of transformation and change towards a more market oriented economy with its embrace of the logic of neo-liberalism, the emergence of the precariat, greater inequality, increasing poverty of the working poor, the applications of market principles to to society, and the loss of traditional forms of social connectedness.

The overhang was 3 decades of post bubble period of the 1990s-2000s was a period of economic stagnation with its sense of hopelessness and loss of confidence in the future. The impact this had for photography was that there was a turn away from international art exhibitions to an emphasis on DIY practices, smaller scale, local communities. It was like a turn back to the postwar past.

Pages: 1 2

contemporary art,, landscape, trees

Ian Lobb + contemporary landscape photography

January 28, 2024

Ian Lobb’s black and white landscapes in his Black Range (State Park, Victoria) series opens up the possibility for a contemporary landscape photography in Australia in the early 21st century after the demise of modernism and the decay of postmodernism. Lobb worked on the Black Range series throughout the 1986-1996 market bubble decade. These intimate photographs of the Victorian bush within the image economy of a globalized world were interpreted by Helen Ennis, the then Curator of Photography at the National Gallery of Art, as metaphors for psychological and spiritual states. The aesthetic background of the styles, mediums and concerns in Australia in this period is succinctly outlined by Terry Smith in this interview.

My contrasting interpretation of Lobb’s smallscale and localized Black Range landscape series is that it is part of the displacement of the modernist emphasis on photography being part of the grand narrative of the avant-garde breaking new ground in terms of art historical style. It also part of the displacement of the critical postmodernist emphasis on pastiche, parody, appropriation and a free floating simulacral world of signs disconnected from real physical objects. Several diverse strands of contemporary art emerged in the clearing opened up this displacement, and the smallscale and localized artmaking exemplified by Lobb’s modest Black Range photos, was identified by Terry Smith in his What is Contemporary Art? as one of the 3 main currents of contemporary art in the early decades of the 21st century.

My interpretation holds that the significance of Lobb’s contemporary Black Range landscapes is that this series highlights place (topos); place in the sense of Lobb being in a local place that he understood and knew very well from his frequent visits. Place is that within which we are at homeor within which we dwell, and to dwell is to be located in a harmonious relationship with one’s surrounding environment. Lobb’s intimate landscapes shows both that he was at home in the Black Range bushland and that his photography was a form of placemaking. They open up a pathway for others to begin to walk along.

In contrast to many of Melbourne’s art photographers, who relate to Ian Lobb as the master fine printer with his worthy emphasis on the beautifully crafted print, I connected to his smallscale and modest landscape photos of the local Black bush. My interpretation of this body of work as opening up a pathway for a contemporary landscape photography is that it suggests that such a photography is of the present, but one that newly mobilizes the past tradition of landscape photography. A photography that is of the present but is not out of date, doesn’t have a backward looking orientation, nor is it nostalgic.

Lobb’s Black Range series gave me the confidence to go beyond my tentative landscape photos of the local Waitpinga bush on the southern Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia by continuing to walk along his pathway and continue with my initial photographs through becoming attached to this place by being at home in the bush. I came to understand that the history of both the Black Range and the Waitpinga bush as a place or topos meant that they are both bounded and open, both singular and plural. I realized that the question of place they raise is also a question of time or history, which can be understood as a history of these specific places coming into being and undergoing change.

Pages: 1 2

error: Content is protected !!