Two women stand together, one gripping the shoulder of the other. Neither makes eye-contact with the camera. Boris Eldagsen’s (b. 1970) now-infamous piece, titled The Electrician, won a Sony World Photography Award in April 2023. However, Eldagsen later revealed that the image was generated using Artificial Intelligence (AI). This stunned audiences and intensified already heated debates surrounding the relationship between this new technology and art. The eighth edition of PhotoVogue dived headfirst into these topical issues. Titled What Makes Us Human? Image in the Age of AI, the renowned photography festival held a series of exciting exhibitions looking at beauty, technology and the uncanny. Their enriching three-day symposium exploring AI’s legal, political and social implications was recorded and will be available soon. Today, we spotlight three standout creatives whose work expand the limits of what’s possible. We look at Prateek Arora’s imaginative, AI-fuelled Indofuturism, Luisa Dörr’s inspiring shots of skateboarders and the ways Sarfo Emmanual Annor captures the spirit of Ghana’s youth on camera.
Work from Indian screenwriter and AI-adoptee Prateek Arora will be on display as part of Uncanny Atlas: Image in the Age of A.I, an exhibition investigating the ways AI is changing our ideas of photography. It asks: can a picture show us more than reality? Arora certainly agrees. His horror and science fiction characters are made using the platform Midjourney. One shot shows a cyborg in the middle of a street. His skull parts to reveal wires and metal plating, matching his torso and arms. Elsewhere, we see a haunting family portrait. Mundane clothes and surroundings give a false sense of normalcy, but zooming in to the details reveals each character is stranger than they seem. For Arora, AI is an opportunity to present sci-fi and horror focused on South Asian people with details that take inspiration from their diverse cultures. In an interview with WePresent, he explains that these genres are largely untapped in the Indian entertainment industry. Arora’s images are “proofs of concept” that invite audiences and development executives to expand their imaginations. He states: “Making Indian sci-fi a big thing is a life goal for me. I want to take some of these stories and creators and push all of us forward and get the world to take notice.”
The following artists, Luisa Dörr and Sarfo Emmanuel Annor, are the winners of this year’s PhotoVogue Festival Grant. Their work is part of What is Beauty?, an exhibition that comprises 40 photographers who challenge traditional notions of aesthetic appeal. It mirrors another show, What is Beauty / A.I, where 13 artists who use AI tools answer the same question. Despite their different mediums, Dörr and Arora both seek to show the world what’s possible. Her project is titled Imilla, which is the Aymara and Quechua word for “young girl” in Cochabamba, Bolivia. It’s also the name of a collective of female skaters started in 2019. They wear “polleras”, a voluminous tiered skirt associated with Indigenous women in the region. Despite its origins in the 16th century Spanish conquest, they have reclaimed the garment as a symbol of Indigenous identity and pride. In Pairumani Park Entrance (2021), red, pink and blue skirts billow in the wind. The group skate towards the camera, framed by lush trees and clear skies. In another shot, we see Deysi Tacuri Lopez fly off a raised platform. With the board beneath her feet, she becomes one with the sky – forever frozen in a display of skill and courage. This representation is powerful because the sport is often “dominated by white, middle-class, male participants, with a historic prevalence of hypermasculine and homophobic culture”. Dörr showcases the bold and empowering energy of Imilla, pointing towards a more inclusive future. She is amongst other artists widening public perception of the sport, from the Island Gals of Johannesburg captured by Karabo Mooki to Olivia Harris’ shots of women skating around London.
Sarfo Emmanuel Annor is the second recipient of the Festival Grant. Much like Dörr, his work also highlights the power of young people in shaping the way we see the world. The Ghanaian artist explores beauty, fashion and daily life in his home country through vibrant shots that pop with bold primary colours. He is amongst a generation of image-makers from Ghana and the diaspora making waves in the art world and beyond, together with Prince Gyasi, Carlos Idun-Tawiah and Heather Agyepong. His series, Life in Color, is a celebration of cultural diversity. In one shot, titled The African Girl Child, we see a young woman with a bag tucked under her arm and a bowl of red fabric balanced on her head. The colours are mesmerising, as the bold print of the “kente” bag contrasts the vivid blue background. It’s a visual feast of colours, patterns and textures. Annor challenges Eurocentric beauty standards through his pieces by emphasising the beauty of dark skin. Sarfo reaffirms the fact that “many African cultures have historically held dark skin as a symbol of beauty and associated it with health, strength, and heritage.” The children posing in this series are from Koforidua, Accra. Sarfo states: “Photography has the power to shape perceptions and inspire positive change, so I approach my work with empathy and a genuine desire to celebrate the beauty and potential of African children and their role in shaping the future of the continent.”
PhotoVogue Festival continues to engage with pressing topics. Facing the complexities and possibilities surrounding AI helps us to reflect on the future of human creativity and expression as a whole. Alessia Glaviano, Director and Head of Global PhotoVogue Festival, stated that the aim of this year’s show was to: “explore A.I.’s potential for reshaping our understanding of creativity, human existence, and the very essence of how we communicate and convey our visions to the world.” All of these artists shatter preconceived ideas, from beauty standards to sci-fi and skateboarding. They strive to broaden our minds, whether they are making use of revolutionary technology or pushing the boundaries of representation.
PhotoVogue Festival, BASE Milano | 16-19 November
Recorded videos from the 3-Day Symposium will soon be available to watch online: vogue.com/photovogue
Words: Diana Bestwish Tetteh
- If I were a mangrove tree, I will rebirth on the sweet land © Chiron Duong.
- Simélan (Fish from the water) (2023) © TogoYeye
- Serenity, Sarfo Emmanuel Annor, processed with VSCO with g3 preset