Specular Reflection: The Rosie Series
Color vs. light. Many of the past images I generated using AI are studies of color theory, which deals with color mixing and the visual effects of specific color combinations (ex. split complimentary colors). Lately, color has become a secondary element or last step in the process. Light, especially specularity is the primary objective. Specularity is the reflection of the actual light source, rather than its illumination. Shine is another term that is used to describe specularity.
Research has shown that specularity or shine creates the illusion of dimension, especially in darker skinned subjects. Theodore Kim (2021), identified racial bias embedded in CGI software that emphasizes the hegemonic visual features of Europeans and East Asians. According to Kim (2021), skin glow from subsurface scattering (see Vermeer) mutes or dulls the features of darker skin. Specular reflection or shine that gives dark, brown-skinned subjects — like the ones in artist Kehinde Wiley’s large-scale figurative paintings — their character.
I’ve written about this previously on Medium, as well as for the Just Tech platform. At the time I was using and exploring Deep Dream Generator, specifically Deep Style, which is DDG’s version of image style transfer. In other words, I applied the style of one image to a base image: I applied shine to images to achieve specularity. The “Bernie Worrell” tribute portrait is a great example of the DDG Deep Style AI image generation approach.
I loved this work but found it to be too literal, as if applying gold leaf over the images. Now, using Midjourney, I have found subtler techniques to achieve shine. One is more mechanical as if applied using an airbrush and other is arguably more organic or natural as if captured by an analog camera. I like both techniques but I’ve gravitated to the latter because these images look different from most Midjourney output.
The Rosie series aka “Rosies” imagine a future for women’s labor by merging World War II’s Rosie the Riveter, an allegorical cultural icon, with Industry 4.0, which is characterized by rapid change to technology, industries, and society due to the emergence of Big Data, AI and other recent developments. I use text prompts in Midjourney to describe what I wanted the AI to create. I also use modifiers in Deep Dream Generator to specify to the AI the desired creation and its appearance. I use Neural Filters in Adobe Photoshop, which are powered by AI and a machine learning engine to make image adjustments. These AI tools synthesize images with different styles to create an evolving aesthetic vocabulary.