A nescessary update
Why the next post is taking so long, some observations, thoughts
Originally posted just before Thanksgiving 2023, revisited, updated and re-posted on 1/9/24
My mood for this post:
Some comments on historical research and sources and why the core suite is taking a long time to produce
The history of photography, as has been noted by its many historians, is quite well documented. And there is a lot about it that has been published, right from the beginning. There are issues, however.
One is that some of the most known important primary documents were considered destroyed or lost —and no doubt, many were. Histories were written and declarations were made based on what was available to the historian or what the historian chose to use or exclude. Some of these documents were found decades later. Other sources, never known to have existed, were found over 140 years later.
There are issues of selective cherry-picking of sources, often to plant national flags of honor. There were communication issues. There are translation problems. But most damaging are the attempts to identify and validate individuals and their accomplishments—anecdotally alleged or documented—to satisfy our strange need to establish firsts, as in, who discovered/invented “photography.”
There are many forms of historical fallacy, but the most damaging—especially in this present pursuit— is a trilogy of fallacies: the historical fallacy; the historian’s fallacy; and the scourge of presentism. Throw in deficiencies of descriptive lexicography and we have quite an uphill struggle before us. I will address these problems as they come up but if you are interested in getting a headstart learning about these and a host of other fallacies of historiography, I highly recommend Historians' Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought, a classic work by David Hackett Fischer.
There was simultaneous discovery; simultaneous thought; and simultaneous invention. Some occurred in isolation away from centers of learning, commerce, or communication. There was deliberate adherence to scientific methods of procedure and processes. There were moments of serendipity and luck. There were incremental successes and advancements, and appearances of giant leaps forward. There were also dead ends, crushing defeats, and premature abandonment of further pursuit.
I have now spent over 1,000 hours delving into a large number of published histories, some dating back to the 1840s, as well as academic theses, and evaluated hundreds of internet posts. I have expended considerable amounts of time and cash getting at primary sources and contacting source curators and keepers.
I have a very dim view of those who spend 5 minutes on web “research” to cull quick historical background (usually of dubious validity) as they produce nearly daily clickbait posts.
Written histories are more than a chronology. They are narratives about past events. Let me be very clear about what I am doing in this suite of core posts. I am not writing a new history. I am not rewriting existing history. As stated in a previous post, my goal is not to establish who did what first because doing so creates a myriad of problems, cannot be definitively settled, and doesn’t matter. I am surveying a huge number of sources, not to establish absolute, irrefutable truths that can be precisely attributed to specific individuals, times, or places, but to develop a historically-based argument leading to a legal definition of photography.
Some additional comments and observations based on my reading of recently produced online content:
Many in this new AI culture continue to delude themselves into thinking they have a handle on this AI image-generative technology. They are oblivious to the challenges that were imagined and achieved in centuries past by people who spent years deliberating and experimenting to achieve the rudiments of what your iPhone now does in milliseconds, or what AI generates in a few seconds based on billions of tokens that took millions of people billions of man-hours to produce that were then systematically stolen by scraping to “teach” LLMs how to emulate something it neither knows nor can duplicate.
One of the latest methods self-proclaimed “experts” in this “art” have concocted is to teach others equally clueless—possibly for money—their “secrets” of how to produce “photo-realistic” images by using “photography-based prompts.” This technique is said to be a sure-fire method to get spectacular results with the same aesthetics as photography—a subject they know nothing about —bypassing the years of knowledge and practice required to become skilled in the actual endeavor.
I continue to ask myself. “Why?”
I see posts full of images they and AI have created that they think are so realistic and astounding. Obviously, they haven’t taken a look at them! There are so many problems I can spot instantly: the wrong number and anatomy of fingers; insects with three antennae; perspectives that are just wrong, and the list goes on. Their use of so-called photography-based prompts is laughable because 1) they know next to nothing about photography, 2) AI “knows” nothing at all, and 3) it shows in the results. These poor deluded souls think all the crap they create is oh-so-wonderful that they think equally ignorant individuals are willing to pay for it! I suppose many of them will.1
They stand like gnats on the shoulders of giants who would, rightly, send them to writhe for eternity in an AI-generated virtual hell with a mere flick of their fingers.
I had to edit and re-edit the last four paragraphs for tone and my language many times until the anger and the venom I was writing had been softened to meet my own standards for publication. But I hope you get my meaning and actual visceral state of mind about all this garbage and those who produce it, looking to get clicks, “likes,” and fawning comments, hoping to keep the reader reading long enough until the pitiful payment algorithms kick in so they can earn literally a few pennies. Ai chat apps are particularly good at writing that kind of stuff.
And finally, I have mentioned in a few different places the need to confront those we see calling AI-generated imagery photography. I have been so successful in doing so that I have lost count of how many miscreants have blocked me from their open sites, especially those on Medium. Fools. I just come in from a different IP address and/or device and still monitor what you are doing and saying.
And I am cataloging them. These are important activities. Issues created by casual and deliberate semantic blurring and misusage will result in a lexical nightmare and pose a greater problem than AI (about which I will be necessarily brutal when I address the problem of descriptive lexicography). This is why I stress the need to confront the conflation of photography and AI-generative image-making processes and terminology.
Oh… this just in!… (back when I was originally writing this), I am reading that OpenAI has just canned Sam Altman. Imagine that. All his mea culpas to con the government couldn’t save him from the overlords to whom he prostituted himself. Image that… I am imagining the real truth as to why and what it is the board wants…it’s not that hard to figure out, actually, but I can’t wait to read all the clickbait commentary being feverishly created at this moment to ‘splain it to us. It should start overflowing my inbox in 10…9….8… [which indeed happened before the day was done!]
[That story changed quickly, as it was destined to, and the intended natural order was quickly restored, allowing the troubling issues involved to remain safely out of the public spotlight.]
Back to work… Post 2.3, and others being developed simultaneously, are in the works. I think most will find it all very interesting. Others will bristle and ruffle their feathers.
Particularly loathsome are you professional photographers who used to produce online content to teach photography, now pedaling AI-gen courses. Anything for a quick buck.