The greatness of film

David Hmmings in Blow-Up

I mean film photography, not movies. (Although don’t get me wrong, movies are also great.) Photographer Graham Carruthers has a blog post concerning the merits of film photography versus its more-efficient digital replacement. That post is a response to this article in PetaPixal about the sudden trendiness of film cameras among the “nostalgic hipster” set.

While I’m hardly a photographer, my limited experience with film has given me an appreciation for the joys of analog shooting. Here’s my comment on the blog:

Speaking as a hobbyist, I always enjoyed using my Nikon film SLR. Film has a tangible existence, which makes it seem more “real” than a digital file, and there is something cool about handling film – loading it into the camera, snapping the back shut and hearing the whir of the take-up spool, dropping off the roll at the local pharmacy and getting back an envelope full of prints and negatives that can be displayed, passed around, stored in an album… It’s definitely less convenient than digital but there is something special about the process that can’t be replicated on a computer screen. By the way, a professional photographer once told me that the best way to learn photography skills is to start with a film camera, because digital cameras make everything too easy.

And, of course, you can make art even with a chintzy disposable camera.

Archillect: a spectacular, self-destructing AI

Archillect, an artificial intelligence that crawls the internet in search of images that people like, is (or was) overdosing on her ever-expanding fame, as a 2016 interview with creator Murat Pak suggests. Art should be popular, but there is a paradox inherent in letting the fans influence an artist’s choices – as her fan base grows, the art loses its edge. It’s an old story, even if the artist in question happens to be made of software.

Are there any other cases where you could see Archillect failing catastrophically?

In addition to the above, Right now the main problem is how Archillect is destroying herself.

Let me explain. Archillect is made as a trend-getter – a bot to understand what on social media is able to get more likes. In its early days, Archillect was almost invisible in terms of her social media power, and this made it much easier to understand what people already like. But now, Archillect has more than 150k followers and reaches more than 8 million people per day, which means that she has the power to affect people’s choices.

Because of this power, and because of how Archillect is positioned in people’s minds (with the help of social media) everyone assumes “Archillect is a judge and whatever she picks has to be beautiful.” As a result, even the most random image gets a lot of social media reach. This makes it very hard to understand what is really beautiful or more interesting or more valuable (in terms of potential reach) and makes the criteria get so close to each other that all becomes almost gray. This whole loop is a loop of self-destruction because even though Archillect outgrew herself, she is now losing her power to understand. In other words, it feels like there is no real relation between the number of interactions and social media value of the content. Just recently I’ve tweaked Archillect to depend more on the choices of her earlier followers as opposed to her later ones, and I hope this will help.

A bit more background on our cyber-curator:

Simplifying, we can say that Archillect operates in two ways: by searching photos on Tumblr, Flickr or 500px and then posting them on social platforms and eventually observing how they perform. Then she decides which one is considered more interesting on the base of shares and likes.

Maybe Archillect’s purpose is to hold a mirror up to our collective unconscious – in which case, perhaps the more minds she taps into, the better:

I finally understood the coldness that emanated from that account and its elegant choices. Archillect is an algorithm that feeds its viewers with what they’re looking for, perhaps without them even realizing it. Her visual universe is made of abstract and beautiful images but almost deprived of any emotion. No coincidence that the dominant tones are cold, like grays, blues, blacks, washed-out colors and the materials are usually concrete, metals and plastic surfaces.

The collective unconscious hidden desire is polished, perfect, almost without a human presence.