Inside this issue
The Death of the Assumption of Reality
I am a full-time amateur photographer, having made my first photographs at age 13 and continuing now some 50 years on. I enjoy many genres, but mostly I enjoy the deliberate and contemplative aspects of landscape photography. I do not view myself as an artist, but rather I try to faithfully and aesthetically record the artistry, beauty and tragedy found in the world.
Editors Note: I should mention that this article wasn't solicited by us in relation to our recent announcement about the Natural Landscape Photography Awards and was actually submitted in draft form prior to the competition even being considered (Nov 2020). However, although the topic of realist vs creative photography is one that has been around since the dawn of photography itself, it does seem that the topic is once again rising to prominence. I'm sure there is no fundamental answer to this but as the debate goes on, we're very interested in different points of view. Take it away, Timothy...
Tell the truth and honour the place. ~ Jack Dykinga
Photoshop – transitive verb. To alter (a digital image) with Photoshop software or other image-editing software especially in a way that distorts reality (as for deliberately deceptive purposes) ~Merriam-Webster Dictionary
The subject of Guy Tal’s recent article, On Photographic Technology, (Vol. 213), may represent a sea change in landscape photography, yet it appears to have slipped by largely unchallenged. It is an important topic for us, especially with the recent introduction of artificial intelligence algorithms by Adobe and Luminar.
To summarise his position, Guy believes that the viewing public should – indeed, has – come to expect that landscape photographs are digitally manipulated by the photographer into an interpretation of a scene that did not actually exist. He said, “representation of realistic appearances is no longer the default, and may soon no longer even be the primary, use for photography.”
Referring to realistic photography, he asserts, “those who choose to practice this kind of photography will have to distinguish their work as such” and to “cease relying on common ignorance of the creative potential of the medium that is unlikely to persist.”
This is an important event in the history of landscape photography because it provides justification for the use of artificial intelligence. If traditional, reality-based photography has been pushed aside by creative digital photographers in pursuit of their artistic expression, the door is open to allow machines to further assist the artist-photographer in creating an entirely new level of abstraction.
Guy’s reference to GPS for navigation is a perfect analogy for AI. Just as pushing a button produces a pleasant female voice that guides us unthinking to our destination, soon all we will have to do is push a button to create a fantastic landscape image. AI will learn our creative tendencies, anticipate what we would create on our own and create an artistic expression for us through the miracle of mathematics.
According to recent push-emails from Luminar, AI will alter your image to “create breath-taking results” based on analysis of “thousands of shots from pro photographers.” This program will transform “any photo into a stunning masterpiece in the blink of an eye,” the purpose of which is to “bring you artistic success.”
In other words, soon you won’t have to take a great picture or learn all that Photoshop stuff or luminosity masks in order to garner Likes, win big competitions, teach workshops and represent brands. Just one click and you will leave Alex Noriega in the dust.
There you have it. The machine is going to do the work to make you an artist.
The natural extension of Guy’s thesis is that landscape photography will have moved from in-camera work based on reality to creative post-processing based on imagination to machine-created art based on algorithms. People who embrace this new technology will argue that the resulting masterpiece is based on their machine-learned creative history and, therefore, really is their creation. They just didn’t have to actually do anything to create it.
Several photographers with well-subscribed social media outlets, have openly lamented the arrival of AI and have expressed scepticism about its use in landscape photography. But isn’t this the same as, say, film-based photographers lamenting the use of Photoshop to alter images? AI is just one more step in the progression of technology to assist photographer-artists in self-expression. The silly part is that it creates rifts among us.
There is a way we can all pursue our passions without animosity towards each other or towards each other’s creative paths. Guy suggested that the realist photographers need to identify their images as such. Take that one step further. We all should identify our work as a process genre within landscape. Stupid idea, you say? Painters do it. They don’t just have paintings, they have genres within genres. They have oils, acrylics, watercolours, sketches, etc. They have photorealism, cubism, dadaism, impressionism, romanticism, etc., within portraiture, landscape, abstract, etc.
Realist photographers could proclaim their work as, well, photographs. Digital creatives could identify their work as photo-illustrations. And AI artists will find a word to identify their art.
This should be supported, possibly even required, by venues such as contests, exhibitions, publications and social media. The images would not have to be watermarked as such, but rather mentioned in the accompanying text. “Fred’s work brings a realistic view of the natural world.” “Ginger uses images captured in nature as a basis for her creative expression.” Images could be identified in metadata as a keyword. “Landscape, Portugal, sunset, photo-illustration.”
We should not throw this on the public to figure out or expect that they will assume all landscape photographs are a product of whatever the latest technology allows. Soon, landscape “photographs” will include everything from a well-executed picture of reality to a substantially fabricated creation. Now is the time to establish different genres within the field. Photographic technology is forcing us to make these declarations.