The photographic elite gathered in Perpignan, France, on September 1 at the annual Visa Pour L’Image photojournalism festival. That night, the outdoor screen shimmered with images of people using laptops in Soviet-era apartments and a bear strolling past rundown industrial sites. They came from The Book of Veles by Jonas Bendiksen, an award-winning documentary photographer who had traveled to North Macedonia, which had been home to a vibrant fake news industry during the 2016 US election. As his peers gazed at his work, Bendiksen watched from the bleachers with increasing discomfort.
Two weeks later, a Twitter account bearing the name Chloe Miskin tagged Bendiksen in a tweet accusing him of fraud. She claimed to be from Veles and declared “the whole project is a joke” because he had paid locals $50 to pose for his photos. An hour later, UK filmmaker Benjamin Chesterton, a frequent critic of the photography industry, retweeted the allegations.
Then Chesterton noticed that one of Miskin’s Twitter followers was wearing the same unusual pink sweater as a woman pictured in front of a snack kiosk in The Book of Veles. That fueled his own suspicions. “I imagine any minute now Jonas will reveal that the people in the images are computer generated as a ‘clever’ ‘take’ on fake news,” Chesterton tweeted—words Bendiksen read with a surge of relief.
In fact, Bendiksen had created the people in the images with software. The next day, the prestigious cooperative Magnum Photo posted an interview in which Bendiksen revealed that although he had traveled to Veles, every person and bear in his images was digitally faked using 3D models like those used to make video games. He also revealed that the book’s introduction, describing his travels, had been generated with artificial intelligence software. Miskin, too, was fake—created by Bendiksen to trigger his own exposure.
He had embarked on the caper to spark a conversation in photography about the growing power of deceptive technology. His ability to fool some of the craft’s elite portends trouble as tools for manipulating imagery and information become more widely available. “It’s scary that the most visually sophisticated people on the planet fell for this,” Bendiksen told WIRED. “Where’s the threshold for fooling people who are not so visually literate?”
Bendiksen is an unlikely photo frauduster. His 2006 breakthrough book Satellites documented years exploring decaying former Soviet republics. He’s since won international awards and membership in Magnum, where he served for a time as president. In 2018 he started reading up on the fake news hub in Veles, in the post-Yugoslavian country of North Macedonia, and spiraled down the rabbit hole.
Source link : wired