Art Nouveau House

This photo recently went viral online, supposedly showing a magnificent Art Nouveau building in Bucharest.

This mysterious villa is a superb example of Art Nouveau architecture. I found myself wanting to book a flight to Bucharest to see it for myself, as well as the context of the rest of the neighborhood.

The only problem is that it doesn’t exist.

This is an excellent example of the power of artificial intelligence. By feeding several keywords and commands into a software package called Midjourney, the software will create an image for you.
 Because this software application (and other similar AI tools) has become very popular, the internet is flooded with these manufactured images. These tools are so good that we (want to) believe the image is real.

Since the very beginnings of photography, we've looked at the resulting images as something magical in how they so vividly capture reality. We believe that a photo offers visual proof of something that is or that has occurred. But similarly, since the beginnings of photography, images have been manipulated, either for artistic expression, or more sinisterly, to mislead.

Now, if you want to spread misinformation, AI can certainly help you with that, but, in this case, that was not the creator’s intention.

The picture was made by Thierry Lechanteur, an artist from Belgium who combines traditional photography with digital manipulation.
 He tries to bring a dream world to life and has embraced AI as a new tool, but is always honest and upfront about using it, by always disclosing how his images were made, without pretending the buildings and cityscapes are real.

But of course, someone saw his picture and posted it online, without mentioning that the house was not real, but merely an AI creation.
 From there the story started to spread, as people on social media reposted the image in order to amass "likes" and "shares."

The ability to so easily create images (or texts) that appear genuine is one great challenge with AI that our society will need to address. One of the main points of contention with members of SAG-AFTRA in their current dispute is the ability of studios and production facilities to easily "clone" actors and use their digital likeness in situations outside of the contract terms and without their knowledge/permission.

It's always best to be just a little bit skeptical with anything found on the internet. My parents always cautioned us "Don't believe everything you see."

But oh, how I wish this house were real!

Thanks to Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse of the excellent blog Fake History Hunter for her efforts in identifying and verifying/disputing various online viral images. Teeuwisse is an Amsterdam-based artist who combines historic images with modern ones in her work. In a project where she takes contemporary photos of locations found in a collection of old photographs, she blends and merges yesterday and today in powerful ways.

I leave you with one of her beautiful images:

Composite photo
Ghosts on Stairs at Nieuwe Looierstraat 24