|Albumen print of Mrs. Duckworth by Julia Margaret Cameron 1867
|Max von Sydow - 1992 scan of 6x7 cm b+w negative
In the last few months, the news besides being about the orange guy and wars all over, has been obsessively preoccupied about the concept of Artificial Intelligence. From the point of view of being a photographer and a portrait photographer I have been mulling lots about how it will affect me. Since I am 81, I don’t have to worry much, as statistically, I am not long for this world.
I do think that since I started taking photographs in 1958 and currently (I will not use that awful word still) taking photographs that I may have some kind of insight.
Right over the top, those photographers who may be earning
pennies for their sunsets, sunrises, pristine nature takes, closeups of eagles, fauna and macro photos of flowers will be unemployed. Many who use phones have no idea or memory of the concept of Rembrandt lighting. A portrait (in two dimensions) will show the appearance of 3D if the light on the face is not flat.With Rembrandt lighting one side will be darker than the other. Another way to define Rembrandt lighting is to call it window lighting. Note the photograph I took of Mexican writer Jesús Vargas Valdés below.
| Mexican writer Jesús Vargas Valdés - October 2023 in Mexico City - Galaxy 5
What is not considered in this concern on AI is what I have come to understand. We know that algorithms are really good. AI depends on algorithms. But not included in the many articles I have read is that that algorithms are not intelligent. They use the 21st century ability of computers to find similarities and connections it what might be disparate elements to some of us.
Not in the consideration is my assertion that AI will work if the person using it, is not only intelligent, but also has a good cultural memory and particularly of the past.
As my prime example are two portraits. One, an albumen print, was taken in 1867 by Julia Margaret Cameron (in my opinion the best portrait photographer of the 19th century) of Julia Prinsep Stephen, née Jackson; formerly Mrs Duckworth (1846-1895), Wife of Sir Leslie Stephen and mother of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell. The other is my portrait of Max von Sydow which I shot in October 1992 at the hotel Vancouver.
When I was getting my studio flash equipment ready for the
session (I was in a separate room to the actor) I saw him in profile. I
immediately connected it to my memory of the Cameron portrait. I quickly
mounted a long lens on to my medium format Mamiya, which was mounted on a
tripod. I guessed at the long exposure and took it. I added the colour to match Cameron's when I scanned the b+w negative.
My belief is that AI could not reproduce my von Sydow without an intelligent person having a memory of the Cameron portrait.
I will place here other photographs of mine in which since I am not a famous photographer the chances of some person going through the connections before instructing AI are awfully slim.
|Charlie Chaplin & Claire Bloom in Limelight - Lauren Stewart
My two granddaughters on a Saturday some years ago watched the film Limelight with Charlie Chaplin and Claire Bloom. Lauren, in picture here, was dazzled by Claire Bloom's makeup. Her older sister Rebecca said that she could reproduce it from memory. This she did and she styled it also. I just took the photograph.
|Sandrine Cassini circa 2008 - right girl in Mexico City 1963
It would be difficult for someone instructing AI to combine the idea of a then Ballet BC dancer who had started at the Paris Opera Ballet when she was 14 with my photograph of the little girl in Mexico City. With Cassini we were going through the poses of Marie van Goethem (14 she was) when she faced Degas for his famous sculpture.
The above photograph I took in the 90s of Vancouver bodybuilder Carla Temple involved me taking other photographs of women in relation to their diet to keep fit. Vancouver Magazine art director Chris Dah's instructions were,"Alex make the photographs heroic." For this photograph I located some Greek columns in the CBC's storage facility in Burnaby. Dahl, editor Malcom Parry and writer Les Wiseman, all assisted me into loading them into a rented pickup. For lighting I used three lights, inspired by my then interest in the Hollywood photographers of the 30s and 40s, especially George Hurrell. In this 21st century, studio lighting is all but forgotten and photographers like Irving Penn, Bert Stern, Edward Steichen, Richard Avedon and Edward Weston for anybody under 30 might not be known.
|Bia d' Medici by Bronzino - Rebecca Stewart
My granddaughter Rebecca is now 26 and has little inclination to pose for her old grandfather. For all the years that she did, she knew I would never ask her to smile. I did this inspired by the photographs of Julia Margaret Cameron and the Reverend Dodgson who both photographed Alice Liddell not smiling. I was further inspired by the paintings of children by the Firenze artist Bronsino. I also knew that in the late 19th century Victorian times children held terrible and long jobs, as they were considered to be adults.
Above is my portrait of my other granddaughter, Lauren who has a most startling gaze. I used some not very good (therefore wonderful!) President's Choice 35 mm colour negative film (no longer made by Fuji) in front of one of our hydrangeas in our old Kerrisdale garden. I insist that family portraits not of the families of Irving Penn or any of the many current celebrities are safe from AI manipulation.
Few connect the idea of AI with Photoshop:
Adobe Photoshop is a raster graphics editor developed and published by Adobe Inc. for Windows and macOS. It was originally created in 1987 by Thomas and John Knoll. Since then, the software has become the most used tool for professional digital art, especially in raster graphics editing. The software's name is often colloquially used as a verb (e.g. "to photoshop an image", "photoshopping", and "photoshop contest") although Adobe discourages such use.
My current Photoshop, Photoshop 8 (19 years old) is sufficient for all my negatives and slidea and print scans and works nicely with the downloaded files of my Fuji X-E3. I don't need to place a penguin in the Arctic. In this blog I recount how Bert Stern in the early 50s convinced Smirnoff Vodka to send him to Egypt's pyramids to photograph the ultimate dry Vodka Martini. Now that photograph would be done in little time with almost any Photoshop.
|Bert Stern left - right photograph by yours truly in 1986
The photograph on the right above was for one of my first cover stories for Vancouver Magazine. I wrote and photographed authors with one of their children. Many of the children had written about their parent writer. I was given $1000 for the best cover of the year. People asked me where I had taken my idea. None knew who Bert Stern was. Using my memory as Artificial Intelligence I took my photograph. What was a tad difficult is that I had to go to Whistler to shoot the portrait. The only white wall was at a staircase. It was tough!
|Rosa 'Margaret Merrill' November 2023
My wife, who died 3 years ago, and I, were serious gardeners. We had a large corner garden with 200 old roses, rare trees and many perennials. Since 2001 I have been scanning (I suspend the plants over my Epson flatbed scanner ) the plants of the garden. I may have somewhere around 3000 scans, all done at 100% size, showing accurate colour and the date. I don't always do pristine scans. Here you can see black spot on the leaves and blooms that are past it. Important for me is that I grow the plant I scan and know its name and history. What is the competition? Usually macro shots done at noon (the worst possible light) and with what I think is no respect for the plant itself. Will AI as instructed by a well versed in botany person achieve pictures like this one?
|My wife (we were married for 52 years) Rosemary
One of the forgotten instruments of this century's technology is the scanner. Besides scanning my negatives, slides and prints I use it as a tabletop camera and place objects on it. Of late, many of my object scans involve my memory of my Rosemary. My Epson V700 scanner has incredible depth of field. I like the size of the glass (I could get a larger one) as I find its limitations inspirational.
I do hope that some of you might have gotten this far and feel hope, that as far as photography is concerned, some of us are safe for a while from interference in what we do well.