Jake Verzosa makes use of AI text-to-image tools to show glittering scenes from “the greatest disco party that never happened.”
Even a cursory browse through Jake Verzosa’s Instagram is like a plunge into a multiverse of curiosities.
In between posts of the photographer’s different personal and commissioned projects through the years are images that can make you do a double-take: At one point of his photo grid, there are rows of 1930s Filipinos with their pets, both seemingly fused with nuts, bolts, and wires, with a caption that reads “early attempts of Filipinos at longevity and immortality… before androids, there are cyborgs” and titled “Eternally Yours.” A few panels up are Phalaenopsis orchids, which is supposedly a hybrid species that is practically impossible to produce with current horticulture methods and processes. These are mixed with “found polaroid portraits of Filipino rockabillies” and “images from the first motorcycle club in the Philippines.”
The use of quotations is completely warranted in this context as these images are all totally fictional, made without a shoot, and created with artificial intelligence text-to-image tools Midjourney and Stable Diffusion.
The use of AI tools to create new images and copy has ramped up in the past year, leading to previously unthinkable creative executions alongside heated arguments on the ethics of such use. There is ChatGPT, the much ballyhooed text generating tool that has been on everyone’s lips in the past few months, creating everything from full feature articles to research papers to web development code with a few choice words and a push of a button. (Many ask, however: If you take the journalist out of the journalism, the creator out of the creation, what exactly are you left with?)
For Verzosa, these tools are merely a means to explore the unexplored. “When it first came out a few months ago, I wanted to experiment on images or photographs,” he says, “produce images that I would only dream of doing.”
The process is pretty straightforward: “Programs like Midjourney, you enter a text, for example, ‘a photograph of a Filipino couple during the ’70s in a disco setting.’ Then Midjourney spits out like four images. From the four images na yun, pipili ka lang. Puwede ka pumili to upscale. So pag may napili ka na, you just keep on generating and refining your prompts hanggang makuha mo yung gusto mo [From those four images, you just choose. You can choose to upscale. So once you’ve chosen, you can just keep on generating and refining your prompts until you get what you’re looking for],” Verzosa explains.
One set of Verzosa’s digitally-generated images, as shared on these pages, is particularly eye-catching. Based on the idea of the “the greatest disco party that never happened,” it features bronze-skinned revelers clad in gold lamé and sparkling sequins in some of the most well-known clubs of the ’70s and ’80s.
“I did some research din kung ano yung mga places before na during the ’80s, yung mga disco before… pinupuntahan ng mga tao dati nung mga bata pa tayo and wala pa tayong idea. I wanted to create images of that era. Ayun, I discovered, bukod sa Stargazer may mga iba pang disco that time, Where Else, yung mga ganyan. So I just made a narrative of nung era na yun [I did some research of the disco places of the ’80s, the ones that people would go to when we were still young and had no idea of these things. There, I discovered that aside from Stargazer, there were other discos of the time, like Where Else].”
“So it’s really about images from the past and the future,” Verzosa says simply, sharing another project that involves traditional weaving. While he didn’t produce these images with a camera in his hand, his lens and interest in the topics of memory, Philippine culture, and history remain clear. What these tools have given him is a wide spectrum, allowing him to articulate both what has been and what could be.