The intention of The Fifth Corner is to advance a paradigm shift in which image-based media are utilized in more innovative, thoughtful, and helpful ways. Recognizing the transformative challenges of this digital, “post-truth” era, The Fifth Corner invites the photographer and other producers and consumers of imagery to evaluate the role of the image differently, and to consider strategies for interpreting the world that are more authentic and credible.
The Fifth Corner asks us what we want from the current media revolution. Not just where it is taking us, but where do we want to go?
For those of us on the outside, the “fog of war” is beginning to resemble a total eclipse of the sun.
With the contraction of print publications, the front pages of newspapers and the covers of newsmagazines have essentially disappeared, no longer providing a unifying focus. With a multitude of people, political factions, and organizations weaponizing media, using fake or misleading imagery in a parallel media war, viewers have been left largely in the dark, not knowing with whom to empathize, their tribal loyalties reinforced. And now, with increasing skepticism fueled by the emergence of artificial intelligence systems capable of simulating conventional media, the photographs and videos that actually depict the conflict between Hamas and Israel are more and more considered suspect.
In 1984, when photographers were still using film, I began exploring the early use of computers to undetectably modify photographs. In an article in The New York Times Magazine I wrote that “in the not-too-distant future, realistic-looking images will probably have to be labeled, like words, as either fiction or nonfiction, because it may be impossible to tell them apart. We may have to rely on the image maker, and not the image, to tell us into which category certain pictures fall.”
This was two years after National Geographic, at the dawn of the digital image revolution, had modified a photograph of the pyramids of Giza so that it would better fit on its cover, using a computer to shift one pyramid closer to the other. The magazine’s editor defended the alteration, viewing it not as a falsification but, as I wrote then, “merely the establishment of a new point of view, as if the photographer had been retroactively moved a few feet to one side.” I was astonished. It seemed to me that the magazine had just introduced to photography a concept from science fiction—virtual time travel—as if revisiting a scene and photographing it again.
Rather than a recording of the visible that shows aspects of the world around us that may not be in accord with our preconceptions, software will allow us to reshape the digital photograph to conform to what we want the world to look like. For example, an exhibition on display in Ashkelon, Israel, shows synthetic, quasi photo-realistic images that were produced to represent the memories of elderly Holocaust survivors recounting traumatic memories from their childhood some eight decades before. It was done, as the organizers put it, to remember this horrific era in human history. But does this method also encourage forgetting? How will future generations be able to discern the difference between the lens-based visual record compiled by photographers and filmmakers versus the photo-realistic imagery that is based upon explicitly subjective memories? The past becomes increasingly uncertain, as does the present. What will become of the photographic record? What, if anything, can be done about it?
Photography’s ability to record specific moments of reality has made it a powerful documentary tool over the past century. Since the recent public release of generative artificial intelligence, synthetic images that strongly resemble photos are now quickly being added to the record, undermining the intuitive trust in photos and scrambling the links between images and reality.
What can practitioners, publishers, and educators do to resist the erosion of trust in documentary photography? What are the new tools, vocabulary, and ethics needed to adapt to this technological upheaval?
In this event moderated by David Campbell, Fred Ritchin, Dean Emeritus of the School at the International Center of Photography and former picture editor of the New York Times Magazine, speaks with VII photographer Tomas van Houtryve about the risks and opportunities that AI presents to the documentary photography community.
FOTODEMIC Town Hall #001: Re-imagining the Future of Visual Journalism responds to the Black Lives Matter demonstrations and the various roles of the photographer, among other issues; with Nina Berman, Brian Palmer, Bayeté Ross Smith, moderated by Fred Ritchin.
An all-day conference in 2019 on Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965-75, an exhibition presenting work by 58 artists that was curated by Melissa Ho, with speakers including Harry Gamboa, Jr., Hans Haacke, Mignon Nixon, and Martha Rosler. I speak about Philip Jones Griffiths’s Vietnam Inc. at about 1 hour:26 minutes into the video.