Over the past few months, there has been increasing tension in the art world over AI-generated images. In January of this year, for example, a class-action lawsuit was brought by three American artists, Kelly McKernan, Sarah Anderson and Karla Ortiz against three AI imagery generators. The artists said that they had not consented to having their copyrighted works of art included in a database used by the image generators, they had not been compensated, and their influence was not credited when AI images were made using their works.
Now a viral Instagram photographer, Jos Avery, has announced that he has been deceiving his followers, previously telling them that his portrait photographs, which have received much attention, were taken with a Nikon D810. He has admitted that the portraits are actually AI-generated and were made using Midjourney, a company that produces images from text prompts. Avery only started posting these images to Instagram in October 2022, but he has already amassed a following of over 31,000 people. He has been uploading black and white portrait photographs, which he posts with a fictional story about the individual. Avery replies to many of the comments on his posts, telling his followers that he uses a Nikon D810, and even saying to one that he might “record the process one of these days” to show his followers how he shoots. Instead of honestly explaining his methods to his followers, Avery would reply to comments praising his “wonderful portraiture” thanking people, rather than admitting his works were not authentic photographs.
Recently, however, it appears that Avery started to feel uncomfortable about his deception. Last month he told Ars Technica that he’d “like to come clean” as “probably 95 percent-plus of the followers don’t realize” that his images are AI-generated. He said that he had initially intended to fool people as a way of showcasing AI, and then to write an article about it, but the process of creating the images became a creative outlet for him. Avery has been criticised by many for his deception. One Instagram user wrote, “don’t call yourself a photographer, or an artist. All you’ve done is stolen from actual artists […] you’re a prompter that finally grew some semblance of a conscience, nothing more.”
Despite this, Avery claims that a lot of hard work went into the creation of his images. He explained that in order to create the 160 posts on Instagram, he had “generated 13,723 images, not including thousands of uncounted mid-job cancellations.” In effect, he says that he was “generating roughly 85 images to come up with one usable image”. He then edits the images on Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. He explained that “it takes an enormous amount of effort to take AI-generated elements and create something that looks like it was taken by a human photographer” and that “the creative process is still very much in the hands of the artist or photographer, not the computer”. Further, Avery has defended his actions and claimed that there is always a level of dishonesty in portrait photography: “do people who wear makeup in photos disclose that? What about cosmetic surgery? Even commercial fashion photography has a heavy dose of Photoshopping, including celebrity body replacement on the covers of magazines.”
Despite everything, Avery’s photographs do demonstrate the possibilities of AI-generated images, although the incident also adds fuel to the ongoing tensions between practising artists and companies using AI-generated images.