The AI storm has well and truly reached us photographers. A few months ago I would see an occasional dialogue about AI generated visuals, last week I got message after message as well as seeing lots of videos and blog posts about this topic.
Already the debate is getting overheated and the photographers who use and enjoy this are getting a lot of hate directed towards them and they then respond by referring to other photographers as some kind of dinosaurs.
I must admit that I have not even wanted to form an opinion about this, because I have zero interest in AI, except for the implications on copyright which are alarming to say the least. After another day with messages and mentions about AI I decided to write this article about my own point of view.
First and foremost, I do not like this hate debate. The entire problem with this screen obsessed generation or should I say: generations, is that people say things to each other in quickly written or spat out posts that they would never have said when being engaged in a normal conversation. People are different and they have every right to be so. I don’t have an opinion about those who use AI to generate visuals, except when they steal or try to make people believe something that is not true. I do not have an opinion about purists who think that everything you do to an image is blasphemy either. I don’t hold that opinion, because I have only one person to answer to and that is myself.
I use AI software only for sharpening and removing noise and the software I use for this is made by Topaz. That is where AI comes in handy and leads to results that I am happy with. What I feel about AI created visuals does not really matter to anyone but myself. Coming from an art and design background in which I made everything by hand, using traditional techniques and also coming from a background of analogue rangefinder photography as early as the late 1970’s, it will be obvious that I hold traditional craftsmanship in high esteem. I honestly mourn the decline of traditional craftsmanship, the disappearance of people who can make things without the help of computers, who can get an idea and then make it come to life by using their hands. I think this is a great loss to humanity. I love unique pieces made by people who have dedicated their lives to mastering their art and craft. I have high regards for those who do not shy away for putting in long hours for years to master something that is hard to do. I love artists who put in the effort.
Before I became a professional photographer, I was a designer and artist working for collectors and museums over the entire world. I drew everything with pencil on paper, I cut moulds from cardboard boxes, I made things by hand with needle and thread, sometimes helped by a non-computerized sewing machine. Having created something this way, gave me this feeling of achievement that nothing else ever did. One day, I think I must have been 5 years into my career, a good friend, who is very technology minded, came to visit and he told me that I would become superfluous very soon, because my work would be taken over by 3D printers. Being quite young still, without the experience and perspective that you gain when you get a little bit older, I became very depressed. I did not want to live in a world where machines would take away the one thing that made me feel proud of myself. Fifteen years later I quit and became a photographer, but had the 3D printer taken over my work at any point in time? Of course it did not. I stopped because I had always wanted to be a photographer, ever since I was a little girl holding my rangefinder Canonet 28 film camera, because photography is the one thing that makes me feel happy.
I grew up in a time that technology did not yet rule our lives, without social media, smartphones, internet and google. I liked drawing with pencils, I liked being outside in the woods, I liked to go out and explore, I loved photography. My dad had a darkroom and seeing things appear on paper there was magical. Even then I had a very clear idea of what I liked and so I never wanted to shoot with Kodak films (I am speaking about the consumer market films), and always shot Agfa film, preferably the 400 asa film. This film had grain, it was simply one of the things that I liked about photographs. I am not a huge fan of things looking plastic fantastic and to this day I will not remove noise unless absolutely necessary. I regard it as part of the medium that I have grown to love so much. I compare it to the brushstrokes in painting, they are quite simply a result of the tools used and the choice of the tool determines the character of the brush strokes. Digital colour noise is a different story, this is something that I thoroughly dislike.
When I became a professional photographer I enrolled in an extensive training program to learn all there was to know about Photoshop. I was a beta tester for a plug-in software firm at one point. This all to point out to you that I am not oblivious to technology. Soon though, I grew tired of all the special effects that were possible, I learned that the use of Photoshop did not have much in common with the reason why I loved photography; my passion for experiencing fleeting moments, my love of nature, my dedication to traditional craftsmanship. This is not me being a dinosaur stuck in ancient history, this is me being true to who I am and not afraid to believe in myself first and foremost. This is me being authentic in my choices and this is me striving to be a person that I feel proud of, even if this takes me a long, long time to achieve. This is my preference for connecting to a side of reality that is very real, yet unseen by many. This is me, with my experience, my beliefs, my personal history, my tremendous love for life itself.
My point is this; I make my choices based on my own personal beliefs and preferences. I have known myself long enough to know that if technology starts taking over my life, my creating, my art, I will run towards the emergency exit. I am not comfortable in that world.
I don’t condemn those who like to do things differently. I understand, I really do. But to be my best self, my best artist self, who, I must admit, are hard to keep separated, I need to stay true to who I am and my love for what I believe the he(art) of photography to be, which is capturing the fleeting and the timeless. It is about time for me. A visual, no matter how beautiful it is, can never replace the moment in time, spent in reality, seeing something that will never ever happen again just like that. It is why I chose photography, why I love photography and why I am totally dedicated to it. I could have painted or drawn if I had wanted to make nice visuals, but instead I chose photography, because to me it is about showing me the side of reality that is so often overlooked and a side that I very much needed to see growing up. I was in desperate need to see something in this world that was beautiful, magical and good. My camera connected me to it. It was the only way I could be happy, that I could close myself off from the darker reality of my everyday life. To this day, my camera is like a best friend showing me the brightest side of life. I am not willing to give that up. Not ever. I would be betraying the only person that I want to trust more than anyone else and that is myself. I can’t break that trust. I have made a pact with myself to stay true to who I am, even if nobody believes in what I am doing. I have learned to stand on my own and even though this is not the easiest way to go through life, it is the only way to not let myself down.
AI is here, it is not going anywhere, but I have a choice and I cherish the fact that I have that choice, that I am free to be myself. So are you. Free to make up your own mind, free to express yourself in what you create as long as this does not involve stealing from others, free to be true to your own beliefs. Grant others their own right to hold their beliefs, even if you thoroughly disagree. Do what makes you feel proud of yourself.
As always I would like to express my gratitude for your interest in my photography and writing. I highly appreciate it. I aim to keep writing these essays without sponsorships from third parties to keep my integrity and stay autonomous, but of course writing them takes a lot of time and effort and if you feel compelled to support my work, please consider buying a print or my eBook The Magic of Forest Photography. Prints are now available for many more countries in the EU. If you would like to buy a print and can't find the image in my print shop, please let me know and I'll try to make it available.