26 Nov 2023

Using AI photography to reconnect with humanity

From Culture 101, 12:45 pm on 26 November 2023
Legacy by Jon Carapiet

Legacy by Jon Carapiet Photo: Supplied

Whether you like it or not, the age of AI is here. 

In his latest exhibition Legacy, photographer Jon Carapiet uses AI technology to reanimate current well known and powerful figures, creating the sense of a time machine. 

AI has often been used to bring back to life images of the deceased, but Legacy takes this concept to propel audiences to a hypothetical future; encouraging contemplation and meditation on the current state of the world, as if it were the past. 

Carapiet said the exhibition contains large photographs that have been produced using AI.

"But they are stills from moving images that the AI created from still images, so I'm playing a little bit with moving images and still images.

"But the AI software that I was really interested in using, mainly because I found it so shocking, was software that animated images of dead people."

That involved going on an ancestry website, uploading an image of a deceased relative and AI would animate it, he said.

Carapiet said the first time he saw this type of AI animation, it gave him a "psychic shock".

"It made me feel very sad that these people had been reanimated into a kind of like lost world by the machine and they didn't know why they'd been brought back, it really had a sense of them being in this lost no-man's land - they didn't know where they were, they didn't know why they were there and it was really that spook factor we get from AI."

Carapiet said he worked through that shock factor and realised he could use AI algorithm as a time machine.

"It's a technique I guess to say well what happens if you use AI not to reanimate dead people, but to kind of reanimate living people but present them in a historical, kind of backward view?"

His portraits were of living people and the viewer was being invited to contemplate on what they were giving to the world today and how they might feel about their legacy, he said.

Some of his friends who viewed the portraits were not necessarily interested in a deep contemplation of the power of people such as Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos in changing our lives and how we relate to each other, he said.

Carapiet considers himself a traditional and ‘old school’ photographer where touching up and editing images was not part of his practice; a stark contrast to today’s world filled with photoshop, filters, airbrushing and AI trickery. 

"And the reason for that is photography itself is up for grabs, you know you don't know what you're looking at, you don't know whether it's real or fake - and so the less fake I can make my photographs, and it's still the way I do it, the better," Carapiet said.

Legacy by Jon Carapiet

Legacy by Jon Carapiet Photo: Supplied

Carapiet spoke to Culture 101’s Perlina Lau about remaining hopeful and harnessing what can be overwhelming and depressing about the status quo into his latest exhibition.

The exhibition Legacy was a journey because the photos of living people were reanimated and then a still shot was taken from that to present it as an old photograph, he said.

"I'm trying to elevate the human to kind of pass through the machinery and pass out the other side, pass through its gates you know frightening as they may be, and reconnect to our humanity."

The challenge of AI generally is that it is no longer owned by the individual, but is used as record, or as a toy to add filters or whatever to, he said.

"My feeling is that we need to hold onto our humanity as we engage with it."

Legacy is at Studio One - Toi Tu in Ponsonby, Auckland until Thursday, 30 November.