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Getting Your Portrait Taken by AI
Opportunity or Just Another Gimmick?
Picture yourself in a lavish studio with dim lighting and the latest camera equipment, a photoshoot that feels straight out of a high-fashion magazine. Yet, there's one key difference: the studio and the photographer are non-existent. Welcome to the age where AI – through tools like HeadshotPro, ProPhotos, Secta, Hotpot and Aragon – offers to transform your selfie into a state-of-the-art corporate snapshot, all for a mere $29 or even free for those with some tech-savviness.
The proof is in the pictures: on the left and right, my original selfies; in the center, what I consider to be the best creation out of about fifty portraits generated by these AIs.
At first glance, the result is impressive. Yet, when observed more closely, there's a noticeable void: the image lacks depth and emotion, lacking the soft murmur of a room or the fervent touch of a photographer—the very elements that breathe life into a photograph. It calls to mind Oscar Wilde's poignant observation: "Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter."
Diego Velázquez quite literally embodied this concept in "Las Meninas." Within the painting, Velázquez ingeniously positioned his own likeness, subtly intertwining himself among the subjects. This act forms a nuanced interplay of observer and observed, forever merging the roles of artist and subject into an indivisible whole.
Casting our eyes backward through the ages, from ancient Egyptian glyphs celebrating gods and kings to the Renaissance where each brushstroke narrated a tale, portrait artistry has indeed come a long way. Particularly, the 20th century defied all norms, experimenting with shapes, colors, and perceptions. Consequently, the present-day inclination toward flatness would probably have prompted significant commentary from the Dadaists...
In today's bustling era of social media filters and AI technologies, the distinct charm of portraiture seems overshadowed, making way for standardized facial templates. With an emphasis on metrics and norms, such uniformity has become commonplace. Take, for instance, Canva, with a valuation at one point of $54 billion. Its meteoric success is largely anchored in preset templates, mirroring a society increasingly leaning towards off-the-shelf solutions, potentially elevating the duplicated at the expense of the distinctive.
But let's pause and ponder: Could these tools enhance our individuality rather than diminish it? Photo generators are merely an introduction. Modern technology endows us with a vast array of advanced tools. We have the potential to transform into anyone or anything. With a plethora of filters and tools readily accessible, we can fine-tune our appearance and even adapt our voice to align with our desires.
Our deepening engagement with this para-reality underscores the ever-evolving interplay between our genuine selves and our digital representations. Yet, the intricate dance between authenticity and illusion isn't a product of our digital age. Throughout history, humans have employed masks for enchantment, protection, or subterfuge. Aren't today's screens simply modern-day masks? In this light, "selfpressionism" is but a new chapter in our age-old narrative of dual identities and alter egos. And while there's liberation in curating the identity we display, be it a true reflection or an algorithmic illusion, one has to ask: In the grand tapestry of technology, do we risk overlooking the artist behind the creation?