Vogue’s Controversial Exhibition Will Show AI Images Alongside Real Photos

AI image exhibited by Vogue
AI-generated images from PhotoVogue’s exhibit. | Left image by Prateek Arora, right image by Filippo Venturi.

The PhotoVogue festival this year will exhibit AI images alongside real photos in a move that has prompted criticism.

The festival held in Milan is entitled: What makes us human? Image in the age of AI. Exhibits will include Uncanny Atlas which will investigate how “AI is changing our idea of photography.”

The AI image makers exhibited will include Michael Christopher Brown, a photojournalist who controversially made a “post-photography” series about a real-life historical event in Cuba that was “inaccessible” to photographers.

As well as featuring actual photographers, PhotoVogue will also show the work of Prateek Arora who creates AI images showing “Indofuturistic” narratives, often mixing Indian people with sci-fi characters.

Photographers are Unhappy

Alessia Glaviano is the head of PhotoVogue and has been announcing the artists on Instagram. Photographers and models commenting beneath the posts have made clear their dismay at VoguePhoto’s decision to exhibit AI.

“This is actually so disappointing to see,” writes one model. “There are many incredible photographers and models. Seeing Vogue endorse AI which still uses thousands of stolen generated images from actual artists and creatives. Just so so disappointing to see.”

“Not a photograph,” writes one photographer under an AI image. “In this case, AI is nothing more than cheap derivative plagiarism, where the ‘theft’ process is so complex that the source images involved in the digital soup mix can’t ever be traced.”

“So you generate random ‘photos’ and then attach concepts to them,” writes another disgruntled photographer.

AI image of Cubans crossing the Gulf of Mexico
This AI image depicts the perilous 90-mile journey from Havana to Florida that Cubans have attempted. It was created by photojournalist Michael Christopher Brown.

Glaviano responded to the criticism leveled at the upcoming exhibition: “How can one have a definitive stance on something as vast and novel as AI-generated content?” She writes.

“I’ve dedicated my life to photography and the talented individuals who bring it to life, so please never question my reverence for the craft. Yet, it would be naive to dismiss the transformative power and potential challenges AI offers.

“If we view photography as a canvas, where pixels replace paint, can we then use AI to manifest our most profound thoughts? Can we so swiftly denounce AI-generated images in art? Is art not about conveying our ideas, regardless of the medium?”

Glaviano insists that “diving deep into every facet” of AI is essential.

However, the overwhelming majority of respondents to Galviano’s posts have very little time for AI and don’t want it associated with photography.

“AI is digital, which comes from data and analytics — photography is made from light and reality,” writes Justin Aversano.

“AI is theft. It’s art created by humans, fed into an algorithm that generates profit for the owner of the algorithm, without compensation, credit or consent to the owners of the violated intellectual properties that fuel the algorithm,” writes comic artist Tazio Bettin.

“AI is not created by you, it is commissioned by you to the program. You tell it what you want and then it scans its data it has processed illegally from other artists to fit those asks,” adds photographer Sam Seddon.

AI image of woman surrounded by cats
One of the AI images visitors to PhotoVogue’s exhibition can expect to see. | Nemo Chen.

AI imagery is something that creates a strong feeling, particularly when it is conflated with real photography.

Vogue have already experimented with artificial intelligence, notably using AI to generate pictures of Bella Hadid and Vogue photographer Emanuele Boffa admitted passing off his AI images as genuine photos.

What makes us human? Image in the age of AI. will be held in Milan, Italy from November 16 to 19. More information can be found on the PhotoVogue website.