People are pretty predictable when it comes to taking photos. We all like colorful, sharp, high-contrast things. And on Instagram, we’re basically clones of one another, all taking identical photos at identical spots. But what if your camera, rather than peer pressure, was pushing you to conform?
That’s the idea behind Prosthetic Photographer, a provocative art project by Peter Buczkowski. At face value, the device is just a grip that can fit a digital camera inside. But in reality, it’s more like a mind-controlling parasite that latches onto the budding photographer. With a built-in camera of its own, Prosthetic Photographer uses AI to judge every scene it sees. And when it spots something that it likes, the device fires electricity into your hand, activating your muscles and forcing your trigger finger to press a button to take the photo.
Prosthetic Photographer was trained on the popular CUHKPQ data set, a collection of 17,000 photos pulled from the internet and ranked good or bad by humans. That means the photos that the system takes are something like oatmeal in a frame: neither exceptional nor offensive. Serviceable. “People have commented to me that the photos are just a representation of the database and are not aesthetically pleasing or creative,” says Buczkowski. “It’s just more of the same.”
Indeed, Prosthetic Photographer closes the loop on how we take photos in the connected age. Instead of taking that overhead food photo because you have years of social network feedback–and you know that your overhead food photos typically get so many likes and shares–Prosthetic Photographer turns you into a human puppet who will take the photo the system believes will serve you best. It’s an automatic status update for the photographic arts.
Buczkowski says he’s received unenthusiastic, uninspired responses from the public to his algorithmic photos–which are really the perfect review of his creation. Prosthetic Photographer is trained to be mediocre, and thereby trap the user into a state of mediocrity. It is an archetype for life in the Instagram age: Be sure to take that photo, or someone else will.