Q&A: Holly-Anne Buck – Photo Media & AI expert
Holly-Anne Buck / Collagism is an Australian artist based in London whose practice centres around collage. Her work has been exhibited internationally in reputable galleries, festivals, museums and magazines.
• You are primarily a collage artist which means you sample images, find inspiration, as well as obtain photos from many different sources. Do you work with many photographers who create original material for you to use in collage? Or do you shoot your own material?
I’m a multimedia artist working with collage and I do employ different approaches to my work. For instance, the Tiffany & Co piece was a collaboration with Sorbet Magazine. Working as a team, there was a producer, photographer, a makeup artist, model and the precious jewellery. Together we selected the final images for me to create the artworks as collages. The result was a 10 page editorial spread for Sorbet Magazine.
• You go under the pseudonym of Collagism - where does the name stem from?
Collagists are known bower birds with a real paper fetish, and a big part of my work involves cataloguing collected materials. I’ve held a life-long attraction to glossy editorial fashion photography and I’m fascinated by that world. Whilst I mainly worked in the art world when I moved to London, I immersed myself in the world of fashion, photography and magazines in order to fully study and explore it.
That meant helping out at London Fashion Week, going to Hunger, Dazed & Confused, i-D parties and meeting photographers, models and artists. I’ve collaborated and been inspired by many of them along the way and I’m always open to these opportunities as it inevitably brings another dimension to my artwork.
For my ‘Collagism’ artworks I draw upon my extensive library of thousands of images collected over the last decade from around the world. Many pieces are created manually, scanned and then worked on in Photoshop with digital elements. Additionally, I sample from my library of scanned images, my own photographs, as well as images from the internet.
• Your AI images are amazing – especially your Australiana material a.k.a Big Things for a Big country. What is your favourite program(s) at the moment? Can you talk us through the process?
Thanks so much. Post pandemic I’ve spent some time in Australia with my family. I’m astounded by the expansiveness of the place, the vastness and aesthetic of the country. It’s overwhelming in contrast to London where I’ve resided for the past 12 years. I wanted to create a series of work that celebrates Australia - it’s vernacular, palette and then inject it with some humour.
Across the country there are giant sculptures and some novelty buildings in towns that bring in tourists. They are known ‘Big Things’. There’s dozens of them – including a Big Pineapple, Banana, Marino, Prawn, Potato, Koala and even a Big cask of wine. I believe most Australian’s have an affection for these (often badly) constructed monuments. I certainly love them.
So I decided to create a series of works that celebrate the unique Australian flora and fauna... the things I love most about it. My works, Big Things for a Big Country were born using a combination of AI in Midjourney, Photoshop Beta and Firefly.
This year I have suffered illness that has kept me away from my studio. As a result, I started immersing myself in AI which I could do on my laptop in bed. The silver lining of being ill has been finding this new direction for my work which has invigorated and inspired me beyond words.
• Do you hit any issues with copyright? And is AI going to solve this issue for you?
When I began learning Photoshop in the 90’s I also studied copyright laws and have followed those rules since. I only sample small elements from images and I change them significantly using Photoshop so I have never had issues with copyright.
Using AI to create work is a great way to avoid copyright issues since its possible literally create anything needed with a prompt. That said though, a lot of the pleasure of collage is in the collection of materials and flipping through pages to find random imagery to use. Going to charity stores, markets and second-hand bookstores is such fun as you never know what you’ll find.
I’ve gathered materials during the times I spent living in London, NYC, Tokyo and Mexico City and it would be impossible to recreate or emulate those materials with AI. What is exciting to me is using all the objects, images and ideas I have gleaned from those places and then using those aesthetic references to create new subject matter.
My imagery is a 'download' of all these experiences – so I feel whatever medium I use, my aesthetic is a unique Collagism style which doesn’t belong to anyone else. I’m most excited by the idea of creating something new – something that’s never been seen before.
• Your shoppers / futuristic images look bang on. Quite a few AI programs do a terrible job with hands and skin – but you seem to nail it. Tell us about this series.
AI is learning so fast that those issues have mostly been resolved in Midjourney. Also the process of creating images in AI for me is a combination of learning from others as well as a lot of trial and error.
I use many iterations and combinations of prompts and image blending to create something new. AI is a new form of collage and that’s why I am so excited about it. My series Alienese 24 HOUR, 2.0 is a window into London in the future where humans, aliens and AI coalesce. The images are set in Hackney and central London in parks, supermarkets, cafes and clubs. I’ve transported the people and places that are there now into the future. This series is a new chapter for my ongoing Alienese 24 Hour project – which various iterations of it have been shown at The Vaults London, Tate Britain, Subway Gallery, Apiary Studios, The Wrong Biennale and Arebyte Gallery over the past decade.
• What are some challenges in AI image creation? Do you drop any of the images into photoshop to tweak or enhance them?
AI has very strict set of Community Guidelines that users must adhere to. The rules are important to eliminate any violence, harassment, aggression or disrespectful behaviour or content. They do not condone any adult content, gore, or materials generated for political campaigns and images that try to influence the outcome of an election. These rules are very necessary, however the flip side of this means that creating provocative image with AI becomes quite difficult.
Many text inputs are banned automatically and therefore seemingly innocent imagery can be blocked. For example, I was trying to make a Giant Oyster pavilion for my Big Things series, and a multitude of prompts I used were blocked. With a lot of study and trial and error I’ve learned ways around these things – an artist always finds a way of thinking outside the box. Subverting meaning and finding inventive ways to do things is one of my favourite parts of being an artist. Working across several programs and combining images is essential if you want your imagery to be provocative.
• You’ve obviously seen an accelerated improvement with AI – at a guess, how long do you think it will be until AI images will be fooling photographers properly.
German Photographer Boris Eldagsen won a Sony world photography award with an undeclared AI image. He stated that entering the image was designed to provoke debate. There’s also an excellent Wes Anderson Star Wars trailer titled The Galactic Menagerie that was circulating on social media recently that partially fooled me on a small screen. I only realised that it was fake because of an article in The Guardian requesting that people stopped making these type of Wes Anderson tributes.
I frequent many AI creation forums and a meme appeared about 7 fingered hands, after 2 weeks of it circulating it was meaningless. When I began experimenting with AI in 2022 the images were smudgy, amorphous masses that looked a little like Kandinsky oil crayon drawings. Yet only a year and half later it is capable of producing hyper realistic imagery of your wildest imaginings. In this technological age the learning curve is a vertical line up.
I don’t think people are aware of how quickly our lives are going to change with AI. I am spending an inordinate amount of time learning to use it whether it be on forums, groups, social media, YouTube tutorials or websites.
• Can AI image creation replace human artists and designers? What are the ethics behind AI integration?
AI is a new medium of creation that will create new jobs working for those within its sphere. Whilst AI can create anything quickly you need to have a specific 'taste' and understand what makes a striking image. AI programs are tools that are driven by humans, we are needed to write the prompts and edit the imagery.
In order to create strong imagery, you need to be trained in the elements and principles of design. Similarly, to write good prompts you need to understand aesthetics, art movements, history, lighting, composition and even some code. Once images are made they need to be edited, rescaled, then collated for whatever their application is.
The key will be adapting to change and learning new skills as things are moving so fast. I see AI as something to make our lives easier so we can spend more time smelling the flowers, being with loved ones and producing better things. Humans are attracted to handcrafted things so I can’t imagine that changing. People will always keep supporting artists and photographers because good humans support other good humans.
• How can photographers / designers get paid from AI utilising their images from image libraries?
There are endless opportunities to get paid using AI. Firstly, it’s great for the creative process – brainstorming, developing prototypes and visualisation. It could be used for creating photos to sell to image libraries and exhibitions. It’s great for creating designs for merchandise, textiles, wallpapers. Creating any sorts of artwork for any application such as children’s books, graphic novels, magazine editorials, web design and advertising. If you’re a creative person then AI is a limitless tool that can help to streamline your process.
• Do you think AI will devalue real photography?
I really don’t think so. When NFTs became the hot new medium, people panicked and thought they’d get left behind if they didn’t mint their own collection of NFTs. That didn’t end up being the case at all. NFTs are a perfect way for digital creators to sell their work since it is minted on the blockchain and there is an eternal record of it and its transactions. I don’t think it makes sense to be making NFTs of paintings since the joy of viewing a painting is seeing it’s texture and nuances of colour and light, a jpg doesn’t do it justice.
Similarly, a photograph taken of something real on a Hasselblad and printed on speciality papers is going to look very different to something created with AI and digitally printed, it can’t be the same, it’s like comparing apples and pears. As a new medium it will be a new entity that’s created and will attract a different audience. I’ve always worked with new technology so I’m very excited to be exploring ways of using it.
• With your commissioned work, is there an extensive back and forth with the client or do they give you carte blanche?
Each project is different but generally clients come to me because my Collagism aesthetic resonates with their brand. They usually have an idea or reference of a piece of my artwork that they’d like me to create for their company. Recently I created the cover for Steve Madden’s autobiography The Cobbler – that was a dream gig. I am also lucky to have art collectors who love my work and commission me to create new work for their homes or businesses. Daisy Green in London recently commissioned 10 artworks for Paradise Green at 100 Broadgate, and you can see my work at many of their other spots around London. I really love the collaborative process of commissions, as artists we often work alone in our studios so I love the back and forth and also a new angle and ideas that other people bring.
• What are some of your upcoming projects?
I’m currently curating a video art pavilion for The Wrong Biennale which will launch 1st November 2023. I’m also producing new work for an exhibition at G37 in Berlin in 2024 with WIMMIN. Following that in 2024 I will be working at The Chisenhale Studios in London producing a new exhibition there.
Later in the year I will launch a collections NFTs and run a series of collage workshops in my current studio at the Nicholas Building in Melbourne. My mantra for Collagism is to make creations that are NOW and future facing - Fresh, risk taking, cutting edge, new and of course FUN!