If good means perfect then we have seen the rise of the good, followed by the return of the imperfect. Digital killed analogue, then analogue rose from the grave, but digital is winding-up a super double-punch to be launched by AI.
What got me thinking was an (old) essay by Glenn Gould on the rise of recorded classical music and the possible demise of live concerts. He wrote about the heinous crime of splicing tape recordings together to make a perfect performance from multiple takes. He also wrote about how recordings had changed the sound of classical music. With a recording the sound is not at the mercy of the concert hall’s acoustics and even solo instruments could be made audible.
Compare that with digital photography and tools like Photoshop. The analogy would be a change from something like slide film, where everything had to be right first time, to digital where ‘fix it in post’ became a thing. I’ve written before about how older analogue pictures weren’t technically very good. But now we praise pictures for their sharpness and employ software to make them sharper or reduce the appearance of noise.
And then, just as we were putting on our shades because the future was so bright, analogue awoke. I never thought I’d see cassette tapes again. I thought the same of vinyl records, but even Ikea is selling a record player. Film is making a gradual revival, even though we’ve lost a lot of the ability to make it (or the cameras to use it in). But where there is a demand there will be someone to take money for it, such as the Leica M6. I doubt we’ll ever see an Ikea camera, but there may yet be something that fills the gap between Lomo and Loco.
But then there is the Rise of the Machines. AI-based utilities can generate pictures from a description. This can remove the need for any craft skill and allow anyone to be creative. I still expect the best pictures will be created by the most creative people though, as it’s their imagination that counts, not their tools. So where companies once hired people who were good with Photoshop, they will be hiring people who can imagine the best descriptions or can train the AIs on the best sources.
Give it a few years though and we could be seeing the resurgence of darkroom printing or the use of live models in reaction to (what will be thought of as) effortless automation. Grant Morrison dealt with the waves of changing approach as style superseded style. He invoked the Sekhmet Hypothesis, which says that there is an 11 year cycle of solar magnetism that moves us between hippy and punk, or introspective to explorative. Not that I can even pretend to understand the theory, but I can see how styles or movements break out, dominate and then fade as they are seen to be establishment, ready to be crushed by the New Wave. Indeed, if you want to know how this works with art, read What are you looking at? by Will Gompertz.
What shall we do then? If you are an artist, then I expect you will be either exploiting the potential of the new or creating it. As new tools arise we can use them, but we will be guided by what we want to be able to do. I suppose this is a plea to use the tools rather than let the tools use us. Just because I can shoot sharp pictures doesn’t mean that all my pictures must be sharp. Just because I can ask an AI to make me a picture of hamsters doing the dance of the seven veils, doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have more fun and reward from making a picture of which I’m capable. I might take a look at the clever noise reduction tools to see if I can rescue some old pictures, but I’m not going to make a career out of it.
But apart from all the wittering, it looks like we’re living in interesting times. But I think we always have. What about you though? Surfing the AI wave, making mix tapes or looking for a new stacked stereo system? Or waiting for the next sunspot cycle to bring back flares?
Seth Godin has a view on this that may resonate: “If your work isn’t more useful or insightful or urgent than GPT can create in 12 seconds, don’t interrupt people with it. Technology begins by making old work easier, but then it requires that new work be better.”
Or there is always XKCD.
Just before going to press, I saw that the Canny Man has done a good piece on promtography.
3 thoughts on “(Im)Perfection”
HiWhat did you use for the elephant images?Cheers, Nick
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I think the first one was with Pixray and the second with Craiyon.
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