How AI Will Change Your Photography Major

BestColleges spoke with photography/media expert Charles Traub to learn how a code of ethics could help photographers and creatives as they tackle AI's presence in the lens world.
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Published on August 22, 2023
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  • Charles Traub said photographers need a code of ethics similar to journalists to disclose where and when photographers use AI.
  • Traub said he's optimistic about AI's impact on the creative industry. He said creatives need to work with AI developers to find solutions.
  • Traub said AI is like any other tool that can be used for good or exploitation.
  • Traub said students can use AI for ideation and simplifying long creative processes.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is rocking the creative world — from screenwriters and actors to graphic designers. Photography will have to develop boundaries between reality and fiction.

BestColleges spoke with Charles Traub, founding chair of photography, video, and related media at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York, to see how AI impacts the lens and screen arts.

Traub has been a photographer for 54 years, focusing on being a "real-world witness." His images are about how people react to the world and how the world changes how people respond.

The AI concerns and the magic of it and the potential dread of it really has all come into light in the last year, which is quite amazing, Traub said. While the development of AI itself has been going on for years, I think particularly the creative world sort of woke up sometime about late May of last year.

Traub is optimistic that AI will allow people to do remarkable observation and research to find what has and hasn't been done before. He said students are prompting AIs and using it as a tool to imagine and simplify otherwise long creative processes in photography and lens arts.

Traub said the new trend to use AI to make professional headshots makes sense. He sees certain kinds of advertising and catalog picture-making going to AI.

Now, every revolution has put people out of work and also created new work, Traub said. And so we could debate whether the Industrial Revolution was positive, but basically we think it is, and people suffered from the exploitation during it, and that will happen.

Something that won't go away is being a real-world witness.

Traub said the real world is constantly changing, and someone still needs to record, investigate, and break it apart. Some will go out and take pictures, and others will explore those concepts through AI.

How is this street different than it was two years ago? And what are the implications of the infrastructure? Traub said.

Traub said AI is like any other tool that can be used for good or exploited, but developing a code of ethics for photographers is the next step.

Ethical Guidelines for Photographers

Traub said every school he knows is figuring out AI's limits. And one SVA alum is working on a code of ethics for photographers, similar to journalistic citation standards, to disclose how a photographer used AI.

The issue of what is true and not true or what came from where — all have to somehow be considered by every maker and by every viewer. (We) need to devise professional codes of codes of honor, codes of ways of identifying, Traub said.

Traub gave ideas of disclosing whether a photo was partially or fully generated by AI — by factual certification or even through a watermark.

He said it would be restrictive for visual producers, writers, and creative people to bar AI; he said it's amazing how many people have used it at SVA in the last six months.

There were some people in our illustration program who said, OK, they're not going to allow illustrators to use it, Traub said. I think it's a terrible mistake because they will be left in the 20th century and not in the 21st century. And I felt that way about when digital photography really came into its own.

Traub said any school not addressing AI will be in trouble. He said SVA sent out a new code to faculty on how to use AI. They're going to address it in orientation as well as in all theory classes.

Traub also wants K-12 schools to start educating students about concerns over real and fake photography and journalism. He said you don't learn the rules, code of honor, or discern gray areas overnight — it comes out of your education.

Traub said the people developing these AI programs have the same concerns as the creatives, and the only way to get the right culture is for developers and liberal arts scholars/creatives to talk to each other.

He said social scientists and liberal arts people are pushing back against AI, just as people did at the internet's creation.

You didn't talk to them about what your needs are, he said. You didn't tell them where this could be helpful. You just let them develop it without any dialogue; you pushed away from it. I'm old enough to have witnessed that.