Is there another executioner lurking ready to destroy photography? Could it be generative artificial intelligence? Pictures that appear to be real but are actually fake can be seen everywhere on social media, suggesting that there are plenty of people who are happy to deliver the coup de grâce that will finally destroy professional photography. Could a prompt replace Eugene Richards? With great respect, perhaps naivety, but also determination, we do not believe this can come about. Photography did not have to wait for the advent of AI image generators to be confronted with threats, upheavals, manipulation and faking.
There has been digital photography and editing tools, not to mention the disappearance of photo agencies holding their own archives, and the rise of stock agencies operating on a subscription basis (and they, in turn, are now under threat from generative AI); there is the proliferation of outlets and users and, with smartphones, pictures are not valued as they once were. Yet photojournalism is still around. Why? Because there is the ambition to see the world, the real world, and that is why we get together here in Perpignan.
There is a genuine need and desire for real stories, with people behind them. News stories that have been checked and validated as authentic are needed even more than in the past. With the glut of potentially fake content, proper reporting is of greater importance, but is also much more challenging.
There have been calls for a moratorium on the development of generative AI systems, but that seems like wishful thinking, and is no doubt a dubious option given the significant progress that could be achieved through AI in other areas. But maybe we, the media, are the ones who have to slow down after two decades of non-stop acceleration.
Clear evidence for this can be seen in recent history, e.g. the disappearance of pure players operating free of charge, and the boom in digital subscriptions to recognized established media that still devote substantial resources to news reporting in the field. Given this new paradigm, media literacy awareness and education will be critical. This is the approach we have been advocating and following for the past thirty-five years with a program open to the general public and school groups free of charge, featuring the contributions of photojournalists from around the world presenting their work here with us.
April 25, 2023