NFT, AI, CHATGPT, Do These Letters Mean Anything To Photography?

You may already be bored of hearing these letters, hearing that they are the future or the end for the photographic medium. There is much hand wringing and doom mongering amongst those prophersizing the end times, just as there appears to be a new church of blind evangelism praising a new world of digital manipulation. The fact that I have included NFTs in the title of this article points to this sense of popular extremism.

There was a time when NFTs were the devil and the Messiah, now they are rarely discussed, hit by crypto currency crashes and fears. I know that many still believe in them but the panic seems to be over. The discussion has moved on to AI. Where once my social media feeds were full of chimps and bad digital art now it is full of smooth skin recreations of documentary images by Bruce Davidson, the Pope as a white coated rapper and soft-focus portraits harking back to the 1930s.

Are these the end of photography? I don’t think so. I am sure that they will be used as controlled fixes by some brands to sell products, just as Levi’s have already announced, but that is not the end of the medium. It is an evolution of how digital imagery is created and used.

In a sense the current use of AI is ‘Photoshop Plus’, post-production on steroids. Just as photo competitions once had to set new rules concerning image manipulation, today they are being forced to address image creation. New rules will have to be set and no doubt new categories will be created just as they were for the moving image and ‘post-truth’ image.

Commissioners will have to decide if they want an image that is an idealised version of what exists or a more realistic representation of that object, place or person. It would be naive to think that they will always choose the first of these two options. This may mean less work for some photographers but it doesn’t signal the end of photography.

It is a similar case with CHAT GPT the written word AI option that is sweeping through education establishments causing much consternation amongst educators and short-term joy amongst students. I also know of marketing professionals and ‘journalists’ also using the platform to write generic text, quickly and easily to meet the undemanding needs of clients.

I have heard artists and academics discuss how excited they are about the possibilities it offers to be creative and include its possibilities into their practice. That’s fine but none of that points to the death of creative writing. The truth is that teachers will change the nature of essay questions to outwit the CHAT GP product. Software packages will appear to identify its use just as they did to find online plagiarism. Times will change and times will change in response to that change. This is nothing new.

The difference today is the speed of change and the challenge that presents to respond without panicking. This requires a sense of inquisitive investigation but not a requirement for immediate adoption. I am not a ‘tech geek’ or an early adopter I have been around too long and seen too many false new dawns to jump on every passing bandwagon. However, I am a keen observer and questioner of change, hence this article. I never believed in NFTs but I looked into them, I joined some forums and left before my mind turned to jelly. I have looked at Midjourney whilst it was still free, I attempted to make an image but was not impressed. I have asked CHATGPT to write an essay which was adequate but nothing more than that.

I am not dismissive of new technologies but I also think before I jump. I am not prone to making rash judgements or getting too anxious about what might or might not be. I have no idea of what the future holds for visual communication but I am not fearful. These new technologies will impact upon photographic practice but I do not believe that they will replace it. Some photographers will embrace new ways of working, others will not. That’s okay, but photography will survive, of that I am sure.

Dr. Grant Scott is the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a working photographer, documentary filmmaker, BBC Radio contributor and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019). His film Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay was first screened in 2018 He is the presenter of the A Photographic Life and In Search of Bill Jay podcasts.

© Grant Scott 2023

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