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2.0 Preface to the Core Suite
An introduction to a core suite of topical foundation posts
The phenomenal disruptions caused by the introduction of new AI-generative products in November of 2022 seem like the result of a recent, instantaneous AI “big bang” in the creative universe, perceived by the vast majority of us, the neophyte non-data-scientist general public, as the beginning of a new age. But the fact is that AI has been part of visual arts since the beginning of the digital era, whether or not those of us who have been using pixel manipulation hardware and applications for decades consciously realized it.
The general public has no real sense of how widely AI technologies have been embedded in our lives over the last several decades. And from the perspectives of those who research and produce AI products, the less we know, the better.
True to form, these latest technology tool-toys were introduced without any preparation to tell us what they are, what they do, how they do it, or even how to talk about them, thus creating a new set of lexical problems.
The mind abhors a vacuum. Introduce something unknown and it will attempt to establish some point of reference as an intellectual anchor point. What I observed was photographers and non-photographers alike talking about prompt-based AI-generated images as being “photographs,” perhaps reflexively equating the end product of this new technology to something “everyone knows.” Hold that thought.
The tech companies’ lexical failure by omission has the potential to become a legal issue, alongside the existing lawsuits over how these companies quietly and secretively sidestepped a host of intellectual property issues to produce their products.
Photography has a history long enough to have significant social, legal, and economic consequences in ways that are deeply interwoven and difficult to split apart for separate examinations. Any technology with commercial potential will quickly raise issues pertaining to intellectual property, financial development, and social consequences, all of which raise the potential for government regulation. Any and all of these aspects have legal ramifications, which will require an examination of the contextual lexicon intrinsic to each.
Let’s begin with a simple challenge.
No cheating; no dictionaries allowed, even after you’re done.
Please write your answers down and save them. We will come back to them at a later time
1. How would you define ‘photography?’
2. How would you define ‘photographer?’
3. How would you define “photograph?”
Take your time…I’ll wait…
Did you come up with definitions or scoff at the idea you should have to, because “everyone knows” what they are?
If you took the challenge seriously, perhaps you found them difficult to define without reverting to using the terms themselves in their own definition, a lexical taboo called circularity—a direct result of the fallacy that “everyone knows.” 1
As you contemplated your definition of ‘photography,” did you come up with all these different contextual meanings:
• As technical processes
• As a practice of “taking pictures”
• As a body of work
Whether you found this exercise easy or hard, were successful or not—and even if you blew it off—two questions need to be answered:
1. Did you (by that, I mean “we”) get them “right?”
2. Does it matter?
The fundamental premise of this project is that it does matter. Amateur or pro, if you are a photographer who doesn’t think knowing how to define and defend what it is you do isn’t important, you likely will change your mind in the near future. Again, to be clear: As they have previously, new technologies are challenging perceptions of photography that will affect intellectual property law and have other related consequences.
Before we can influence how photography will be understood and differentiated from its imposters now and in the future, it is beneficial to have a solid understanding of certain historical benchmarks and contexts during its development before being blithely carried along with those lurching into a hyper-driven technical, social, legal and economic black hole.
We photographers who will be most affected, injured, and abused must understand where our active, evolving activity came from, where it is now, and anticipate where it might be going. But more importantly, we need to prescriptively differentiate what it is from what it is not—and do so now.
We should also realize that our present understanding needs to be debated, developed, and documented as it will become a historical reference for photographers of the future who may revisit these same subjects when they are facing a new threat from something not yet foreseen.
I hope my little introductory exercise has stimulated a desire to intellectually get into the fray. Please give it your serious consideration while I continue working up the rest of the core posts (and continue to battle with my inner satisficing daemon of knowing when to stop digging). Definitional issues will become important in the not-so-distant future. As a community, we need to get serious about getting this “right.”
Posts for this suite of introductory articles to follow will examine these interwoven subjects :
• survey the technical history of photography as a means to define it.
• survey of patents to see how that process has defined related subjects.
• survey how reference works and governments have defined photography.
• the definitional problems caused by descriptive lexicography and why we need to…
• write our own prescriptive model definitions of our three core terms.
Do they? The judging panel of experts for the 2023 Sony World Photography Awards thought they did and ended up looking like fools. There is much more to know about that unfortunate event, but it will be more appropriately taken up in another post, open for comment and discussion at that time. I bring this up as an example of how important the definitional topics will be. See https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-65296763, among many others easily found.