Purists might balk, but there was a new trend this year when it came to international photographers submitting their work for the Exposure Photography Festival.
“What we’re seeing for the first time this year is basically moving images and video pieces that have been submitted and included in the show,” says festival co-ordinator Bethany Kane. “Also, there’s photo montage and photo collage. Instead of straight photography, there are all these interpretations of how to use the medium in different ways.”
While this specific tweak might be new, it reflects the general evolution in scope of both the work displayed at Exposure over the past 16 years and the photography world in general. This is Kane’s first year with Exposure, but follows her stint as co-ordinator of the FORMAT International Photography Festival, the largest photography festival in the U.K.
“I really wanted to open it up this year with the open call,” Kane says. “Photography isn’t just photographs. You can experiment with photography, do different things with photography to open things up a little bit and see what people are working on.”
The Exposure Photography Festival is a sprawling, month-long celebration that includes exhibits throughout the city and into Cochrane, Banff, Canmore, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat. Exposure curated a number of exhibits, three of which will be housed until April 26 in the festival’s new headquarters at Contemporary Calgary.
They include the International Open Call, which will feature artists from Indonesia, Dublin, Los Angeles, Montreal, Birmingham and Derby, U.K. A showcase for 15 emerging photographers from Alberta will also be exhibited as will Our Closets by Calgary’s Boon Ong. Ong was the recipient of Exposure’s 2019 Emerging Photographer of the Year award, which earned him the opportunity a solo show in 2020. Having explored his own coming out story through photography, his series chronicles other people’s journey “out of their own closets,” which he defines as “anything that holds us back from our full expression of self, whether sexuality, health, experiential stagnation or unfulfilling employment.”
Ong is certainly not the only artist at the festival working in high-concept themes. This year will also see the return of The FENCE, a travelling exhibition that has been shown in seven U.S. cities, including Boston, Atlanta, Denver and New York. Photographers, including eight from Western Canada, were asked to riff on general themes of home, streets, people, creatures, nature, play and food.
But the exhibits curated by Exposure are just the tip of the iceberg. More than 40 exhibits in Calgary and beyond will be displayed throughout February under the festival’s banner. These range from The News Photographers Association of Canada Pictures of the Year at Brookfield Place, which celebrate the best of the country’s photojournalism; to the Glenbow Museum’s exhibition of street photographer Vivian Maier; to Mitch Kern’s surreal Conundrums at the Herringer Kiss Gallery, a series of works “where man and beast are conflated with nature and culture” in an fictionalized environment based on southern Alberta.
“What’s really nice is that these exhibitions are happening in big, established arts spaces such as Glenbow and Arts Commons, but also office buildings such as Brookfield Place and artist-run spaces and non-art spaces such as Holy Grill,” Kane says. “These exhibitions are basically everywhere. You can’t miss them. If you’re someone who doesn’t necessarily go to arts spaces or artist-run spaces, you can come across exhibitions in a laundromat or a bar or restaurant, too. That’s the great thing about Exposure, you can see photography throughout the city.”
The Exposure Photography Festival officially runs until Feb. 29, although exhibits have different start and end dates. For a full list of exhibits, dates and venues, visit exposurephotofestival.com.
As It Happens6:03Why those AI-generated portraits all over social media have artists on edge
Greg Rutkowski makes his living creating detailed fantasy art depicting epic scenes of swords and sorcery.
He labours for hours on his freelance illustrations for major gaming titles like Dungeons & Dragons, Magic: The Gathering and Horizon: Forbidden West.
But an art generator powered by artificial intelligence can churn out a decent reproduction of his style in mere seconds.
“I was terrified that it was being made so quickly, and with really better results over time,” Rutkowski told As It Happens host Nil Köksal.
Rutkowski, who is based in Piensk, Poland, is one of many artists speaking out about the dangers of AI-generated art as the technology becomes more precise, accessible and popular.
These AIs are often trained on datasets, or collections, of millions of images scraped from the internet, including ones that are copyrighted or watermarked. But the artists who created them never consented for their work to be used — and they don’t get a cut of the profit.
“We could say that, ethically, it’s stealing,” Rutkowski said.
Stable Diffusion works like this: You type in a phrase or list of keywords describing the type of image you’d like to see, and then the AI generates an image that fits the description.
For example, you could write: “Powerful wizard battles fire-breathing dragon Greg Rutkowski” and get an illustration that, at first glance, looks like something Rutkowski drew himself.
According to the website Lexica, which tracks Stable Diffusion images and prompts, Rutkowski’s name has been used as a prompt more than 93,000 times. Some of the generated images even have his signature, he said.
“I was really confused for people that were searching or exploring art and then came across images that weren’t mine, but were signed by my name,” he said.
Enter Lensa, the app that’s been taking over Facebook and Instagram feeds in recent weeks.
This photo-editing app has been on the market for some time, but has recently seen a surge in popularity when it launched a new feature powered by Stable Diffusion.
A user can upload a handful of selfies, and Lensa will generate a series of avatars in different artistic styles. For $7.99 US, you can get 50 unique portraits.
Karla Ortiz, a San Francisco-based concept artist, says people using apps like Lensa need to understand that the avatars they’re getting are the product of real labour by millions of uncompensated artists.
“I think they need to understand that those images look really good because artists’ work was stolen to make it good,” she said.
Ortiz first noticed her work showing up in AI datasets months ago on smaller, niche software. But she says it really exploded with the launch of Stable Diffusion.
“I found a lot of my work there. Almost every artist I know who’s a peer, who’s a professional, who’s been working for a while, whose work is recognizable, was in those datasets,” she said.
“Furthermore, I started seeing that people were using our full names to generate imagery.”
She says none of the companies that have used her work to train their AI models have contacted for permission. But even if she could somehow force them to extract her work from their datasets, it wouldn’t really matter.
“The way that machine learning, you know, works, you can’t even take it out. You can’t unlearn your work once it’s trained,” she said.
Neither Stability AI, the company that created Stable Diffusion, nor Prisma Labs, the company behind Lensa, responded to a request for comment from CBC.
“As cinema didn’t kill theatre and accounting software hasn’t eradicated the profession, AI won’t replace artists but can become a great assisting tool,” Prisma tweeted.
“We also believe that the growing accessibility of AI-powered tools would only make man-made art in its creative excellence more valued and appreciated, since any industrialization brings more value to handcrafted works.”
Is it legal?
Rutkowski and Ortiz are still considering what steps to take next. But whether they have any legal resources remains unclear.
Ken Clark, an intellectual property lawyer with Toronto-based law firm Aird and Berlis, says copyright infringement is a deeply complex subject, and the laws around it were crafted long before the proliferation of AI.
“You have to ask yourself: Who’s doing the creating? Is it the person who is smart enough to create the computer software to go and analyze things … or is it the artist who you’re taking these ideas from, right, in such a way that you’ve substantially reproduced their work?” he said.
But one thing is clear, he said. You can’t copyright a “style” of work, only a piece of work itself.
Daniel Anthony, a trademark and copyright lawyer with Toronto-based Smart & Biggar LLP, agrees.
“We can replace AI with a human as a thought exercise. If a human reviewed many photos and learned a style of an artist and then produced their own work from scratch in that style, it is not an infringement,” he said in an email.
“Indeed, copyright is intended to inspire other creators, provided they make their own versions. Therefore, at its core, what these artist AI software does is likely not infringing.”
But that doesn’t mean an individual artist couldn’t make a case against these companies.
“If the AI-produced work is ‘changed enough’ from any original source input, it will be very hard for the artist to claim infringement. However, if the AI work is substantially similar to any artists’ prior work (such that it appears to be copied), then infringement may be present and legal remedies would likely be available,” Anthony said.
Legal or not, it’s ethically dubious, says Karina Vold, a University of Toronto associate professor who specializes in the philosophy of science and technology.
“At a minimum, companies should seek informed consent for the data that they use to train their machine learning algorithms,” Vold said in an email.
“When it comes to works of art, these are not public property just because they may be publicly available online.”
Artists are losing money
Ortiz, who works for big corporate clients, says she’s not losing work to AI. But she says most smaller-scale artists that she knows are feeling the burn.
“I have a friend of mine from Romania. She was telling me a lot of illustrators there do a lot of work for musicians, and they’re losing out now. They’re cancelling commissions left and right because a lot of these musicians are just using [AI-generated art] as covers,” she said.
Rutkowski says anyone who makes digital art could be impacted. Some organizations, including the San Francisco Ballet, are already using AI-generated art in their promotional materials.
“We get into this industry using our skills to sort of create better visual designs for movies, for games, for book covers,” Rutkowski said. “And right now it’s being replaced by AI-generated images.”
The new exhibition explores relationships and togetherness
Photo by Manmitha Deepthi.
When you walk into the McPherson Library, your first thought would rarely be about the art that’s displayed beneath it. However, tucked in the lower level is the Legacy Maltwood Gallery, a space dedicated to artists and their works.
On Nov. 25 the McPherson Library held an opening reception for Shaping Relations, Tethered Together, a new collection of art housed in the Legacy Maltwood Gallery that explores relationships and togetherness.
The event celebrated the exhibition by emerging Edmontonian curator Mel Granley. They are Metis on their mom’s side and a fourth generation Ukrainian settler on their dad’s side. The UVic alumni, now works as a guest curator at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.
The event began with Granley reading their curatorial statement. They spoke about how relationships hold an important place in every individual’s life. Shaping Relations, Tethered Together aims to explore this by highlighting BIPOC work, experiences, and relationships.
The exhibition was originally curated for the First People’s House in 2019, however it was delayed until early 2020 and then again due to the pandemic. Three years later, Granley was finally able to see their first show open.
A lot of the art in the exhibition is from the Legacies collection which belongs to the university. The collection includes a variety of mediums and is interdisciplinary in nature. The works range from ceramics, a video piece, and charcoal work to prints, posters, and a magazine.
Rain Cabana-Boucher, whose art is included in the exhibition, also spoke at the event. Cabana-Boucher is a Michif and British artist from Saskatoon and a recent recipient of the Takao Tanabe Prize for emerging British Columbian painters.
Cabana-Boucher’s piece French Exit was made in April 2021. The charcoal piece is about losing community spaces during the pandemic. The work was inspired by one of many parties that Cabana-Boucher attended at a friend’s apartment, where a lot of her friends during university met and interacted. These were queer parties where everyone knew each other and created a safe space. In the piece, Cabana-Boucher wanted to convey the longing she felt for those places and the feeling of isolation that queer people and everyone experienced during the beginning of the pandemic.
Granley and Cabana-Boucher also spoke about the relationship between an artist and a curator and the possibility for a power imbalance between them. The curator is an arbitrator of whose art is shown, yet their relationship is mutually beneficial. Maintaining relationships with artists is essential for curators to showcase art to their community. As well, working together to apply for grants and supporting each other has helped both Granley and Cabana-Boucher to grow in their own careers as curator and artist respectively.
Before the reception came to an end, Granley invited the crowd to ask questions. One attendee asked, “When you were looking through the collection, what were you looking for? What was attracting you to different pieces?”
“I was looking for what I can see and perceive as relationships,” Granley responded. “The show is filtered through my bias of what a relationship is.” They explained that with around 20,000 pieces in the Legacy database, finding BIPOC artists to feature in the collection was a challenge. “[They] have a lot of colonial remnants in them so it is difficult to unravel all the layers of the museum,” Granley said. They tried to not only find relationships but celebrate BIPOC relationships in a non-voyeuristic way. As a result, many BIPOC works were included without labels. Granley felt it was important to avoid imposing their voice on the work, since they can’t speak to where the artists are coming from or why they made the work.
Granley also talked about an upcoming exhibition called Symbiosis that they are working on at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. The collection is all about mushrooms and will open in late March of 2023.
Cabana-Boucher also has a new show in the works for next year as part of her residency at the Polygon Gallery in North Vancouver. She is also an artist in residence at the Contemporary Art Gallery of Vancouver which is a research-based residency for which she is working on a podcast.
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