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Nostalgia ain't what it used to be

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

'The camera never lies' goes the old saying. From the dawn of photography to the present day, we have had that cool glass eye of the camera lens - there to witness and capture an uncompromising, precise rendering of the world around us... .

'The camera never lies'

...Oh, if only things were that simple!

But then again, if things were that simple, the world of photography would be a pretty dull place.

Raise a camera to your eye - and you automatically exclude what you don't want to record; that's the first step away from reality... Now choose a focal length, film type, format size and so on - and you will soon be some considerable distance away from just taking a picture.

It was always thus. The camera is a highly subjective tool. It always has been. It always will be. The photographer can pursue the truth or propagandise. The choice is entirely in the hands of the user.

Film maker and photographer Errol Morris put this idea very succinctly-

“There is no correct way to take photographs or to make documentary films, or for that matter to write books; it's not about correct and incorrect. Truth is something that you seek in what you do. You strive to understand the world around you but it’s not guaranteed by style. Using available light or a hand held camera doesn’t make your work any more truthful than anybody else’s work.” 

And these days, a photograph can be created even if you discard the camera entirely; just fire up the computer and step into the strange world of AI. AI generated imagery has exploded onto the photographic scene. Artificial Intelligence is blurring the border between myth and reality in ways never seen before - and at an unprecedented rate.

Another saying comes to mind: 'A picture is worth a thousand words' and now words are the commands that are building AI imagery. Image maker Mario Cavalli created the Old West image seen above using purely text-driven prompts to the AI generator. For these 19th-century images, Cavalli started out with phrases like 'sharp focus,' and 'wet collodion photography'

“...In essence, there’s a lot of trial and error involved. Much depends not only on the content of the prompt but the order in which certain instructions appear,” Mario Cavalli

Cavalli created two sets of AI images; one of cowboys and cowgirls in the Old West and the other from London in the 1860s.

But close examination of the images reveals the flawed world of AI. This picture is convincing until we look closely at the gloved hands... Which look more like bananas than fingers

Typical mistakes from AI include six-fingered hands and horses with no legs. Look again at the hands in that image at the top of this blog...

...Her hands are a molten mass in her lap. His, wildly different sizes.