The Pursuit of Truth: Will AI Prompt a Return to Film Photography?


Are we living in a post-truth era of photography, where the authenticity and reliability of images have become questionable? Given the rise in AI’s association with photography and the ease with which photos can be altered, it might be worth considering a return to the use of traditional film as a means to regain trust and ensure the integrity of photography.

Photography has long been regarded as a medium that documents the world around us, offering a glimpse into the reality of a specific place and time. However, with the advancement of artificial intelligence (AI), concerns surrounding truth and authenticity in photography have become more pronounced. In this article, we explore the current evolving landscape of photography, delving into the impact of AI and its implications for truth, authenticity, and the future of the medium.

The advent of digital photography and image sharing on social media platforms have already significantly reshaped our understanding of authenticity in photography. In an era where filters and editing apps are readily available, the notion of viewing an unaltered image has become increasingly elusive. The pressure to present flawless images is leading to a loss of the perception of reality that photography once celebrated.  From portraits featuring poreless porcelain skin and perfect body ratios, to landscape images stitched together with moody skies and no blemishes on the land to create the perfect shot, we accept that some of what we see should be taken with a pinch of salt. But now that AI has entered the chat, where do we draw the line?

AI has revolutionized the field of photography, offering powerful tools designed for streamlining workflow, removing imperfections, and even creating entirely new visuals. While these advancements have undoubtedly opened up possibilities for photographers and artists, they have also raised significant questions about the authenticity and integrity of the images we see around us every day.

Okay, so my header image for this article is very clearly fake, but what if you opened an article discussing the dangers of fully opening windows in apartments where children live, and this article was accompanied by the image below?  As photographers, we have a trained eye and can scrutinize the image, but I showed this image to my 72-year-old mother, and she gasped, thinking it was real. 

One of the main concerns revolves around the ease with which AI can be used to manipulate and distort reality. Deepfake technology allows for the creation of highly convincing fake images and videos, making it difficult to tell what is real and what is not. This raises ethical questions, particularly in a photojournalistic context, where the truthfulness of visual evidence is of huge importance.

In an era where the authenticity of digital images can be easily compromised, film photography instills trust in the medium itself. Film photography, characterized by the use of light-sensitive film and chemical development processes, holds a closer position to truth and authenticity. Unlike digital photography, where images can be easily manipulated and altered, film captures a moment as it truly exists. As the lines between reality and digital manipulation continue to blur, shooting with film could serve as a reliable back up where negatives are available in the event that the authenticity of images is under scrutiny. 

It’s not all negative. AI can be a useful tool, enabling photographers to automate laborious tasks, leaving more time to focus on creating. However, AI algorithms can alter images in convincing ways, blurring the line between reality and fiction. This poses a threat to the credibility and trustworthiness of photojournalistic work, as viewers may be misled by digitally manipulated images that appear genuine. The authenticity and truthfulness that have long been associated with photojournalism are at risk in an era where AI can easily deceive the audience.

Film negatives serve as physical evidence of the captured moment, providing a connection to the truth which we can hold in our hands and see for ourselves. This transparency and tangibility offers confidence in the authenticity of the photograph, as it is difficult to dispute the reality of an image that exists, as captured, as a physical object. Returning to film photography would represent a commitment to preserving the art and craft of the medium. The process of shooting, developing, and printing film photographs requires a level of skill and craftsmanship that is distinct from the convenience of digital photography or AI algorithms. By embracing film, photographers can reconnect with traditional techniques, allowing their technical expertise to convey their artistic vision. 

It is important to recognize that authenticity in photography is a multifaceted concept. Of course, film can be digitized, and through that process becomes at risk of falling foul to AI in the same way that digital images are. One thing is for sure: AI continues to evolve and is here to stay. It is essential that AI systems are developed within a set of defined ethical standards, which don’t seem to exist in any meaningful way as yet. Perhaps any AI manipulation should be listed within image metadata as standard, which would be a good place to start.

Could a resurgence of film photography serve as an antidote to the concerns surrounding AI-driven image manipulation? To counteract concerns and re-establish photography as a medium of truth, it is worth exploring the unique qualities of film that foster authenticity and argue for its resurgence as a means of capturing genuine moments in an increasingly AI-driven world.  This post-truth problem challenges our ability to assess reality, and this leads to questions about the authenticity of photography. As we navigate this complex landscape, have we gone so far that “the truth” is now just a concept?

I have ended this article with the original apartment image, which I shot in early 2020 while leading a photography walkabout in Glasgow. Noticing a herd of photographers in the street, a decorator leaned out of a window and asked for a picture. After reading this article, can you trust this information or the content of the image?


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