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Digital Dye

Machine Learning
& Crafting Speculative
Indigo Ethnographies

Whispers & Giants Explorations

August 2023

Fictional Photography
Using the MidJourney’s Generative Adversarial Networks.

In this exploration, I am experimenting with high style value settings (at 750) to navigate the tension and balance between plausible and the mysterious. This narrative unfolds on an imaginary island in the Indian Ocean, a rich blend of historical interactions and cultural syncretism.

Here, local clans of African descent encountered Japanese explorers in the 13th century, leaving behind a legacy that profoundly reshaped the island’s cultural fabric. This cross-cultural interplay sparked a unique dialogue between African animism and Shinto, deeply rooted in the natural world and ancestral reverence.

Central to this narrative is the Mythica Indigofera, a fantastical botanical treasure symbolizing this cultural intermingling. Its dragon fruit-like fruits yield an indigo dye of unparalleled beauty, integral to the island’s ceremonial textiles. This dye is not merely a colorant but a medium through which the island’s artisans – masters of their craft – express a unique fusion of Japanese sartorial influence with local shamanic and traditional practices and rituals.

In this ethnographic portrait of a fictional island society, the photographic journey becomes an exercise in cultural sensibility and patient observation. The residents here are characterized by a profound sense of reserve and shyness, traits deeply embedded in their social fabric. This reticence is not a personal inclination but a cultural norm, reflecting a collective ethos of privacy and introspection.

In addition to the cultural norms surrounding photography, it is important to note that the dying process of the Mythica Indigofera holds a sacred and secret nature, further emphasizing the island’s reverence for this botanical treasure. This intricate process, passed down through generations, is deeply intertwined with spiritual rituals and cannot be captured through photography.

Engaging with the reality of this island requires more than just a camera; it demanded a deep respect for cultural boundaries and an understanding of unspoken social codes. A significant aspect of these norms is the prohibition against photographing certain segments of the population, particularly children and elders. This practice is rooted in a belief system that holds these groups in high regard, viewing them as carriers of innocence and wisdom deserving of utmost respect and privacy.

Each image represents a reflection of the trust and acceptance granted by the community. These photographs capture more than just visual scenes; they embody the island’s spirit and people. Each image tells a story of a society that values discretion and contemplation, offering a window into their world while honoring their privacy preference.

In the unique societal construct of this imagined island community, the conventional markers of wealth and power are conspicuously absent. Here, the culture is shaped profoundly by a gift economy anda a deeply ingrained ethos of sobriety. This societal fabric is not woven from the threads of material excess but rather from the rich tapestry of communal bonds and a shared sense of responsibility.

The island’s economy operates on reciprocity and the intangible value of social relationships. Gifts are exchanged not as transactions but as a means of strengthening community ties and expressing mutual respect. This practice transcends material exchange; it is emblematic of a more profound philosophical stance that values interpersonal connections over material accumulation. The act of giving is a ritual infused with cultural significance and reflects the giver’s understanding of the recipient’s needs and status within the community.

Sobriety here is not just about moderation in consumption but a broader cultural imperative that permeates every aspect of life. Excess, whether in possession or display, is viewed not as a symbol of prosperity but as a lack of cultural sophistication and a breach of communal ethos. This perspective on excess is tied to a deep-seated belief in living harmoniously with one’s environment and peers, a philosophy that dictates every aspect of island life, from daily interactions to ceremonial occasions.

In this societal context, property is fluid and dynamically linked to one’s role within the community. Possessions are not permanent or personal markers of status; they are communal assets held temporarily and changing hands as individuals transition through different societal roles. This fluidity underscores a collective understanding that one’s value in the community is not measured by material wealth but by one’s contributions to communal welfare and adherence to cultural norms.

The clans coexist in a state of equitable harmony, dedicating significant time and effort to maintain balance and prevent dominance. Their approach to problem-solving is inherently collective, grounded in the belief that communal challenges require communal solutions. This methodology fosters a sense of unity and interdependence, ensuring that the community’s welfare takes precedence over individual ambitions.

In this project, using MidJourney’s Generative Adversarial Networks, I explored the boundaries of cultural representation through a unique combination of prompt-based references.

This exploration was not just about visual output; it was a foray into AI creativity and cultural narrative construction. The AI’s capacity to blend styles and interpret cultural elements underscored the evolving role of machine learning in the creative process. 

In the context of questioning inherent bias and how AI represents people, cultures and genders, I chose to explore this topic with a creative more exploratory angle. By experimenting, learning and embracing some of the AI’s limitations in understanding of cultures, I aimed to highlight the potential of machine learning in synthesizing and reinterpreting historical and cultural data. This approach allowed for a strange blend of cultural styles and identities, showcasing the evolving role of AI in the creative process and offering new perspectives on cultural representation in the digital age.

Digital Dye

A Midjourney Explorations by Whispers & Giants

Click images to open a lightbox

All images are Ai-generated.
The people portrayed here do not exist.
This is a fictional experiment with artificial intelligence.

W&G 2023