Inceptional Photography

We’re entering an age where Google’s neural network technology is literally able to understand images and iteratively dream up its own. What started as a project to automatically classify and organize photos for users of Google Photos has turned into a technology-rich dreamland where fanciful imagery is born.

Officially known as Deep Dream, Google has released the software to other developers to see what becomes of the technology. One company, Deep Dream Generator, allows users to upload their photos and see what the software will turn out. Users can dial up simple adjustments and styles choices to achieve varying LSD-looking results.

To the layman, Deep Dream is like a playground, often turning out odd and laughable imagery from photos as mundane as a headshot or a picture of your house. To more technical minds, Deep Dream opens a world of intelligence and interpretation that boggles the mind and asks “what else?”

Dan Ambrosi is an accomplished photographic artist who is pushing Deep Dream into his art. For years, Ambrosi has created massive megapixel images of inspiring, immersive landscapes by carefully stitching together multiple exposures from his digital camera and putting those images through a series of off-the-shelf software packages.

“My Deep Dream work is called ‘Dreamscapes: A Collaboration of Nature, Man, and Machine’,” explains Ambrosi. “I’m really only one-third of my art. Nature provides the scene and beauty, I apply the human touch by capturing the scene in the best possible way I can, and then Machine [computers and software] allows for a collaborated output of art.” Ambrosi says Deep Dream is just another software package in his tool bag, but this one is significant because of its artificial intelligence and transformative power. “When I first saw Deep Dream, I was intrigued. I saw it as a way to add new expressiveness to my work well beyond any Photoshop filter. It amplifies my ability and carries my art over the goal line.”

Ambrosi’s super high-res images were an immediate challenge to the Deep Dream software. “Uploading a standard resolution image worked fine, but as soon as I tried my full-sized images, the software crashed.” Thankfully for all of us, Ambrosi lives and works in the Silicon Valley area. “I knew someone at Google and when he got interested in my issue, he was able to get help directly from the Deep Dream engineering team.”

So, Joseph Smarr from Google, where the DeepDream code was authored, and Chris Lamb from NVIDIA, manufacturer of the graphics processing units upon which the Deep Dream code most efficiently runs, collaborated with Ambrosi and produced a special version of Deep Dream. “Joseph and Chris were enthusiastic about this challenge and kind enough to work sporadic nights and weekends on my behalf to get this code to operate successfully on my giant images. I can't thank them enough for their hard work and ingenuity.”

The results shocked even these seasoned engineers. When Deep Dream is usually applied, the overall source image is profoundly changed. However, because of Ambrosi’s multi-hundred megapixel images, the magic mostly happens only when you zoom way into the artwork.

The rocks look carved, but it is all Deep Dream

The rocks look carved, but it is all Deep Dream

“It is only when you leave the computer screen and print my art onto large format that the Deep Dream expressiveness is exposed and amplified,” explains Ambrosi. “I like my art big, so people can immerse themselves.” To that end, Ambrosi prints to special fabric that gets backlit. His art is typically viewed as 8-foot by 8, 12 or 16-foot works.

When you stand at a distance, Ambrosi’s pieces look very close to the original natural version of the scene. However, as you move closer, the Deep Dream art comes into your vision. It is as if you’ve entered Inception, and you actually have. Deep Dream software is multiple passes of AI interpretation of the pixels. When you tell the software “Whatever you see there, I want more of it!” it creates a feedback loop and if a cloud looks a little bit like a bird, the network will make it look more like a bird. This in turn will make the network recognize the bird even more strongly on the next pass and so forth, until a highly detailed bird appears, seemingly out of nowhere.

You can see Dan Ambrosi’s work at Curator’s Voice Art Projects in Miami’s Wynwood Art District through October 2nd. Don’t miss the opportunity to see what is being called the most exciting post-modern photographic art in ages.

When Deep Dream is given more latitude, look at the animal faces that are dreamed into the scene.

When Deep Dream is given more latitude, look at the animal faces that are dreamed into the scene.

As for Ambrosi, he’s already thinking of what’s next. He’s ready to push Deep Dream technology in a new direction. I, for one, look forward to his vision. No matter what the result, it’ll be inceptional photography.