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'What is art?': Billings photographer weighs in on using artificial intelligence

Posted at 6:02 PM, Mar 31, 2024

BILLINGS — As artificial intelligence continues to improve within art and photography, it's getting harder to tell what's been created by humans and what has not.

It's a new and exciting kind of medium for Billings photographers like Daniel Kessel, but one that also has its downfalls.

“It’s really fun. There’s still a human element where humans created AI, AI was trained on human creations,” said Kessel at his studio Thursday.

Kessel runs Alienated Productions with his wife Kasandra, a one stop shop for creative media, whether its light painting or commercial production.

Daniel Kessel of Alienated Productions

“At watershed moments in history, when something changes in the art world, you have to kind of re-adapt and rethink, okay, what is art?” Kessel said.

Though he enjoys using AI, he said it'll never trump the human experience of taking a photo, which to him, is just as important as the picture itself.

“To me, art or photography is like a verb, not a noun. It’s something you experience with your whole body and mind,” Kessel said.

The images spit out by generative AI mediums are now incredibly realistic but they're made using data from other creators across the internet to compile the photo.

An AI generative image created with the prompt of "Montana mountains"

“One of the things then that is happening on the legal front with these AI companies is, did the AI company have right to the data that they used to train their models?” said MSUB City College computer programming instructor John Pannell.

Pannell said the technology is just going to get better, but that means the ethics around it all might not be so black and white.

“It really can be an amazing tool. It always depends on who’s hand is the tool in, what kind of ethical use is being made of the tool,” Pannell said.

John Pannell, MSUB City College Computer Science instructor

Kessel believes these companies can be infringing on personal data.

“These companies that sample what’s on the internet and this whole data set of artists as well, did it without our permission,” said Kessel.

There's also a question of ethics when it comes to those who are passing off generative AI work as their own traditional photography.

“People need to be honest about, I created this with AI or I created this with just a camera. I think there needs to be more honesty and transparency in the art world,” Kessel added.


Both photographer and professor agree that when it comes to art, the human touch isn't going anywhere.

“I think educators, and graphic designers, and photographers can come back and say, yea I see how this is doing that, but if you really want expertise, you’re still going to have to come to an expert,” said Pannell.

We are human so art to us is human rooted. It talks about our experience, and we share with generations to come what our experience was,” Kessel said.