You know a new trend or technology has reached the mainstream when it breaks onto the covers of major magazines. We’ve already seen a few magazine covers using AI art, but none has generated quite so much dismay as Vogue Italia’s new May edition.
The fashion bible wanted to take a more serious approach to the AI art debate, and the premise actually sounded promising. Take a real model, real photographer and real stylists and combine their work with imagery generated by DALL-E 2. It sounds like an interesting experiment that give an insight into practical uses for AI and how AI art can coexist with traditional creative processes. But as with many things involving AI art, things went very weird, with one image being particularly questioned, even by fans of AI art.
“Real shots on imaginary backgrounds created by the DALL-E Artificial Intelligence program. A one-of-a-kind photo shoot and a real challenge: translating a creative's vision into advice for the "machine". That’s how Vogue Italia describes its May 2023 cover story. Bella Hadid was styled by Imruh Asha, photographed by Carlijn Jacobs, and the images were combined with AI art generated by DALLE-2 with assistance from AI artist Chad Nelson.
The magazine says the project resulted in "fascinating interplay between human creativity and artificial imagery", describing it as a “demanding collaboration, studded with frustrating moments but also with surprises and twists” that required an ad hoc working strategy that took unexpected turns. While AI was initially used to create background images, it ended up coming into the foreground too in images that feature a head on a hat and Louis Vuitton pants merging into a peacock.
In Vogue's story, those involved recognise the challenges of working with AI and particularly blending the images together. But some fans of AI think it's a disappointing showcase for what AI and human creatives can achieve. One image that features the mangled AI faces typical of many AI models is being particularly questioned, not just because there are AI tools that can now do better than this (we've seen how much AI image generators have improved), but also because the beautiful Hadid towering over anonymous demon slaves in high heels and mini skirts looks all kind of wrong.
The photo was shared by Hadid herself on Instagram but wasn't included in Vogue's press pack or in its article online, so perhaps it thought better of it, but over on Twitter, some people can't understand how it got made in the first place.
“If someone took Ambien and tried to recreate humans from memory and they were also maybe racist,” one person suggested on Twitter. “It’s so bad and I have absolutely no idea why no one sees it but us like Vogue Italia got a whole team and NO ONE spoke up,” someone else said. "The first pic is kinda giving racial supremacy," someone wrote on Hadid's Instagram.
Vogue Italia that’s not how you use AI who are these cursed demons pic.twitter.com/zumK7WjkJRApril 28, 2023
Imagine replacing human talent with AI and THIS is the result?? Vogue Italia, do better. pic.twitter.com/SyTCy2LDBfApril 28, 2023
racism and white supremacy is bred into a lot (if not almost all) AI and machine learning algorithms because of the literal biases prevalent within the datasets they’re trained on. i think it’s laughable how great of an example this is of how problematic it is for industries like https://t.co/wntVP0wNObApril 28, 2023
ferdinando verderi vogue italia was the last vogue i expected to succumb to ai bt look what happened. id rather see another uninspired, plain-jane vogue us-esque editorial than another ai shit pic.twitter.com/ZC3Jssepbh pic.twitter.com/ldbftDA3C6April 28, 2023
Perhaps the controversy at least answers the question of whether AI art is really art. It's certainly provoked a debate and raised questions about how it should be interpreted. What are Hadid's AI underlings doing? What expressions would be on their deformed faces if they had expressions? Admiration, fear, envy, disdain? We'll just consign this to the lists of controversial AI magazine covers and weird AI art.