Chinese inventors use Midjourney AI to generate retro urban “photography”.


Zhang Haijun in the middle of the journey

Zhang Haijun in the middle of the trip

In fact, none of them are real. Chongqing street photographer Zhang Haijun created these images with Midjourney, an artificial intelligence program.

Many artists and creators are creating nostalgic photos of China with the help of AI. Although these images still have some details wrong, like the number of people’s fingers or what Chinese characters look like, they are realistic enough to fool and impress many social media followers, including myself.

Retro AI artworks like Zhang’s caught the attention of Tong Bingx, a collector of Chinese historical photographs. He reposted some of them on his popular Twitter account China in photos last week.

These created photos are aesthetically pleasing, says Tong. They look sophisticated in terms of standard photographic parameters such as definition, sharpness, saturation and color tone. “When people see things on social media, these [attributes] They are the first things that catch the eye. “The accuracy of the photo is secondary,” he says. On the other hand, real historical photos sometimes look amateurish or come with material flaws.

Zhang, the creator of the AI ​​images above, was born in Chongqing in 1992. He grew up near the Chongqing Iron and Steel Company, one of the oldest and largest steel factories in China, and remembers watching the workers as a seven-year-old. Old. “When I was little, I would watch them come out of the factory on their breaks and sit on the floor smoking cigarettes and looking away. There were stories in their eyes,” he says.

When he turned that experience into an image-making question for Midjourney, he was surprised by the results. “What the AI ​​generated — the resilience and wearability in their eyes — looked exactly like what I described,” he said.

Now, Zhang pays more than $200 a year to Midjourney, and uses it to generate new retro photos on a variety of themes: rural weddings in the 90s, manual laborers for hire at markets, and Chongqing street fashion. Each time, he writes the prompts in Chinese, uses machine translation tools to convert them to English, feeds them into Midjourney, and takes about 20 minutes to edit them for optimal results.

Zhang Haijun in the middle of the journey

Some artists working with AI are inspired by the discovery of real photos. Diaspora youth in the West are creating communities on Instagram that crowdsource and collect historical photos. To rebuild memories free from the western frame.


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