In recent years, Artificial Intelligence (AI) text-to-image models have emerged as a useful (though controversial) tool for artists and illustrators alike. Using written prompts in natural language (such as "a cat painted in the style of Monet"), these models are capable of designing images across a range of styles—from hyper-realistic to abstract.
Still Life explores a collection of botanical images generated by DALL·E 2. Through written prompts, DALL·E 2 can not only create a series of images, it can generate new variations of its own designs and edit preexisting images into new forms. This raises the question: if Artificial Intelligence can create a variety of made-up plant forms, could another AI system classify them?
After generating botanical imagery with DALL·E 2, I uploaded the images to iNaturalist, a plant identification app which uses its own algorithm to identify wild species. (To be clear, I stopped at this step—I have not recorded these AI-generated images as real-world observations!) The app's computer vision model suggested a few possible species for each image. It interpreted a wisp of foliage as a species of willow. A leafy stem: Culver’s root. A burst of petals: Gymnosiphon, a genus of flowering plants in the yam family. Consequently, Still Life represents a complex feedback loop between two systems of Artificial Intelligence.
My first foray into the AI art space, Still Life disrupts the canon of early botanical photography while challenging the history of this two-hundred-year-old medium through a series of botanical "photographs" inspired by William Henry Fox Talbot and Anna Atkins. Use the sliders to compare and contrast Still Life's AI-generated images with photographs of real botanical specimens matched by iNaturalist!
Marsh Bellflower, from Still Life. © Anna Soper, 2022.
Campanula aparinoides. Robert H. Mohlenbrock. USDA NRCS, 1995. Wikimedia Commons.
Hazelnut, from Still Life. © Anna Soper, 2022.
Noisettes sur l'arbre. Dinkum, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.
Bidens ferulifolia, from Still Life. © Anna Soper, 2022.
Bidens ferulifolia (Jacq.) DC. MNHN, Chagnoux S (2022). GBIF.
Rubus odoratus, from Still Life. © Anna Soper, 2022.
Rubus odoratus, Homer D. House, Wildflowers of New York. 1918.