New A.I. Works Fuse Fantasy and Memory at Photo London

How is A.I. art by big names like Roope Rainisto being recontextualized within the traditional photography context?

Roope Rainsto, Vanity License (2024), part of the series "Vacation." Photo courtesy of Verse Works.

As art fairs go, this year’s Photo London is an entertaining romp. Featuring 120 exhibitors from nearly 50 cities, it promises delights at every turn, from huge names like Steven Meisel, Martin Parr, and Lee Miller to the next generation of creators. Take for example artists spotlighted by the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation, which places its emphasis on particularly timely topics. These include Marvel Harris’s ongoing series Inner Journey, which documents his gender transition, Anastasia Samoylova’s subtle studies of impending climate doom in Miami, and Philip Montgomery’s visions of American life racked by inner turmoil.

Among several strong solo presentations of women photographers, the standouts are charming portraits of New York street life by Helen Levitt at Cologne’s Zander Galerie and the strikingly monochromatic landscapes, interiors, and still lifes of Yildiz Moran, a Turkish photographer who deserves greater recognition, presented by Galeri Nev from Ankara. This year’s Master of Photography, Valérie Belin, is honored by a small retrospective that also features entirely new, unseen work.

black and white photograph in which two ballerina dancers legs are seen against a black and white tiled floor and wall,

Yildiz Moran, Untitled Svetlana Beriosova and Svetlana Kessessinova (1952). Photo courtesy of Galeri Nev.

For those hoping to determine what new directions the medium might be taking, the fair is littered with pieces that show how photography keeps evolving as it feeds into and emerges out of all manner of artistic practices. On show are textiles, sculptural pieces, and paintings, alongside an increasingly prominent yet still controversial presence: A.I. Here are some of the most interesting examples on show.

Roope Rainisto

photograph of a large room with photos of holiday scenes on the wall and holiday items like a parasol and deck chairs and beach balls fill the space around the photos

Installation view of Roope Rainisto’s Vacations at Photo London 2024. Photo courtesy of Verse Works.

Finnish artist Roope Rainisto has become a prominent name on the Web3 scene for his experimental projects using A.I. He will likely be unknown to many attendees of Photo London, who will encounter his latest series, Vacation, presented by the NFT platform Verse Solos in an immersive holiday-inspired setting. Almost like ads, the works contain hyperreal images of classic vacation scenes that are imbued with heightened luxury and beauty. At a passing glance nothing is amiss but, on closer inspection, limbs suddenly appear out of nowhere, a diner stool has too many legs, or a plane is strangely distorted.

Is there always such a chasm between our want or expectation and the eventual reality? “Dream” holidays represent a utopian ideal into which we can escape, if only for a week or two. Their innate impossibility and the disappointments that follow lay bear the hollow superficiality of our aspirations.

“That’s really the perfect theme for A.I., to visualize these fantasies,” said Rainisto at the show’s installation. “The photographic style gives people the impression that it’s reality. I want to play with that [assumption].”

He noted also that, unlike on a small digital screen, the physical prints can be blown up to show off the works’ impressively high resolution. “You can actually see small skin details, so you really get the extra impact of the size.”

Sander Coers

two images side by side, one looks like an old photo of a couple from behind looking out to sea and the other is a close up of a man sleeping with the ear of another man showing someone is next to him

Sander Coers, POST n. 28, left, and POST n. 48, right (2024). Photos courtesy of Open Doors Gallery.

At some point, our recollection of a trip will become almost entirely informed by faded old photographs. The eerily false impression this inevitably creates is at the heart of Dutch artist Sander Coers’s series POST, from which several new works are on view at Open Doors Gallery. Small-scale, fragmented, and grainy, his images evoke a nostalgic longing that is hard to place. A man wades through a field of flowers that reach up to his waist amid alpine scenery. A well groomed 1950s-style couple stare out to sea. If these images aren’t real then what are the tell-tale signs?

That A.I.-generated images are plainly fake yet still manage to evoke something close to truth underscores the futility of looking to any one image for an objective or faithful representation. Rather, our vision of the past always takes on a cinematic quality, regardless of the medium.

Jamie Gallagher  

a strange alien like head is seen in profile with painterly touches

Jamie Gallagher, Headsculpt (7) (2024). Photo courtesy of Notton Gallery.

At Notton Gallery in the fair’s Discovery section, artist Jamie Gallagher has taken a different approach, training A.I. on his previous paintings in order to create images that reinterpret his style in new and unexpected ways. The alien-like beings that result have taken on a life of their own, much as any creative act is inevitably born out of what came before.

Photo London 2024 is at Somerset House in London through May 19. 

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