Documentary Photography in the Era of Generative A.I., with Tomas van Houtryve and Fred Ritchin

July 13, 2023
12:00–13:15PM EDT
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IMAGE GENERATED BY ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE. Prompt: An award winning documentary photograph of a lone soldier and the victim of a war crime in the style of a VII photographer (created via Midjourney on 6 June 2023). Image created for a discussion on A.I.

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?

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.


Fred Ritchin is Dean Emeritus of the School at the International Center of Photography, former picture editor of the New York Times Magazine, and former professor of Photography and Imaging at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Ritchin has written three books on the future of imaging, including In Our Own Image: The Coming Revolution in Photography (1990), After Photography (2008), and Bending the Frame: Photojournalism, Documentary, and the Citizen (2013). He is currently writing The Synthetic Eye, to be published by Thames & Hudson in 2024.
Tomas van Houtryve is a photographer, conceptual artist, and author whose major works interweave investigative journalism, philosophy, and metaphor. Van Houtryve makes images using a wide range of processes, ranging from 19th-century wet plate collodion to Augmented Reality.

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