Before photography was embraced as an art form its primary role was one of documentation and observation. Unlike painters, who witness the world in real-time, the camera has the unique ability to freeze motion. Many photographers explored this attribute by studying the motion of humans and animals, and occasionally the two combined. Eadweard Muybridge was most well know for these efforts, documenting hundreds of scenarios, starting with the documentation of a horse running (to prove a bar bet). Other practitioners of that era who also did motion studies included Thomas Eakins, Etienne Jules Marey, and Ottomar Anschutz. It’s argued that these motion studies inspired early exploration in cubism by the artists Edgar Degas and Marcel Duchamp. In my study, I am using the Midjourney AI to reinterpret that same history, specifically, how would robots have appeared in these same studies if they had existed then? Using a machine to visualize how another machine would fit into a history that it knows it doesn’t belong in.
Note: I was unable to explore how AI would interpret Thomas Eakins due to nudity filters on Midjourney, unlike the other three artists I mention above, Eakins only did nude studies of humans.
This is a reinterpretation of history using MidJourney AI. In this alternate reality, Henry Fox Talbot did not invent the Calotype process, ushering in the era of photographic prints on paper, but rather was an early space explorer and the first person to step foot on the Moon in 1840. This event was followed by one of the most dangerous moments in human history, the discovery of an aggressive species of aliens with technology far more advanced than our own. Having angered the aliens with his presence on the Moon they responded with a furious attack on Lacock Abbey. Henry Fox Talbot, desperate for the fued to be contained, agreed to peace terms with the aliens that required space travel technology to be suppressed for a minimum of 100-years. The citizens of London responded by throwing a ticker tape parade in his honor. All of this was documented by an unknown photographer by the name of Marcus Jermain and remained undiscovered until recently.
Prompt used: Henry Fox Talbot meets aliens on the moon
Artificial intelligence has been expanding rapidly in recent years and becoming widely available to the public. Services like DALL-E have become widely known and are being used by thousands of artists everyday. I decided to dip my toes into this method of art creation with an eye towards re-interpreting the history of photography. I consider these artworks a collaboration between my brain translating concepts into language and the computer translating that language to its own mathematical number based system while referencing a large database of existing images humans created by hand. The results are surprising, fascinating, and a bit alarming at times. The experiments posted here are from the MidJourney bot that runs on Discord using the trial access, as such the posted images are all Creative Commons Non-Commercial License, feel free to download them and play!
I recently confirmed an 8-hour workshop that I will be conducting for the Colorado Photographic Arts Center (CPAC) in Denver, Colorado. The workshop is titled “The NFT Movement: Decentralizing Artwork” and explores the history, uses, and how-to of the NFT world, specifically on the Algorand Blockchain that I have been participating in using my alias and umbrella project title, Art Block, for the past year. As my earlier blog posts have eluded to, I have recently “unmasked” that project and am integrating it into my standard practice as a fine artist. This workshop is yet another step in my coming forward to share what I have discovered this past year.
CPAC finally called my hand and I created my first new creative headshot in a decade (illustrated on left). I decided to combine several aspects of history and technique when creating the headshot as a nod to the new direction ‘Art Block’ has taken me in as an artist. The headshot was created by shooting through a wet plate negative (created by Denis Roussel in 2014) and then using compositing techniques and digital illustration to finish the job. The final result spans the entire technological history of our medium, as most of my work has been as of late.
The workshop will be offered in November of 2022 as an online course. If you are interested in learning more about it or registering, please visit the workshop page here. I am very excited to be presenting this ongoing research and creative work to anyone who is interested, and even as I type this the technology is evolving and new options are emerging, fitting everything into 8-hours will be a fun challenge!
Now, some of you reading this may be thinking to yourself “I thought Todd was an environmentalist, and isn’t blockchain bad for the environment?”. This was a big concern I had when I first began researching blockchain and NFT, and it is true that the two most popular blockchain platforms, Bitcoin and Ethereum, are absolutely terrible for the environment and create carbon footprints larger than some small countries. There were other reasons that I didn’t have an interest in Ethereum (currently the most well-known and popular NFT blockchain, home of Opensea), primarily the fact that there were so many hidden fees and a lot of celebrity manipulation – I was looking for a more open-source and decentralized platform for art with low barriers of entry, nevermind the environmental factors. Enter the Algorand blockchain (ALGO for short), a sustainable carbon negative blockchain with very promising technology created by a well known cryptography expert from MIT, Silvio Micali. https://www.algorand.com/
What is an NFT anyway? It’s a digital document on a ledger that can not be altered or deleted, a permanent record that uses math to verify its authenticity. It exists on a decentralized platform, which is why governments are so concerned with it – there is no server to raid and shut down, no real way to make it stop, as long as there is internet there will be blockchain and the NFTs that were created there. How does that work exactly? Blockchains are decentralized because they exist on nodes across the globe, every node has an entire copy of the blockchain in real time as well as an archive of everything that has ever happened on that blockchain – there are millions of nodes on the planet and in outer space for every blockchain technology (and there are thousands now). With digital artworks that have no physical component an NFT is proof of ownership and a record that stores details about the artwork. The digital file associated with the NFT (the artwork in our case) is stored on another decentralized network known as IPFS (Inter Planetary File Storage), which is also stored on multiple nodes (known as gateways in this case) across the globe and in space. If all of this sounds like a science fiction novel, it’s because in a lot of ways it is – however, blockchain is simply an evolution of the internet, and a common term you see for it is ‘Web3’. Eventually a lot of what we use the internet for will occur on some type of blockchain in the background, whether the user is consciously aware of it or not – the internet evolves like any technology or living organism after all.
In my next several posts I will discuss some specific projects done under the Art Block umbrella, and how I am beginning to merge the two worlds together moving forward.