On July 19, during the late evening rush hour, the Johannesburg CBD would be rocked by a methane gas leak explosion. The explosion ripped roadways apart and flipped vehicles on their heads. With one fatality and 48 people injured, the explosion and its aftermath would leave South Africa’s most populated city on edge for weeks. One local, Thekiso Mokhele, used the devasting event to create spellbinding works of art using the latest AI technology. We chat with the creative to find out how he harnessed the power of AI to capture the mesmerizing essence of the destructive incident and translate it into captivating works of art.
Please tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Thekiso Mokhele, and I am from Sebokeng, south of Johannesburg. I use art as a way of expressing myself as I was always misunderstood, but for some reason, when I stopped speaking and started creating, people heard my voice.
Your AI photograps of the recent explosion in Johannesburg gained attention from people and publications all over the country; what inspired you to create these works, and what message were you trying to convey?
I was inspired by the turmoil and chaos that was happening at the time, I am from Johannesburg, and I used to live near where the explosion occurred. I wanted to feel relief from all the chaos as my art is therapy, and that’s why I created the series.
What inspired you to explore AI photography?
I wanted to spread awareness first and foremost about the explosion. I wanted to start a conversation amongst South Africans about our country and the state it is in, as my art is a reflection of the society in which I live.
What are some of the most interesting things you’ve uncovered working with AI photography?
The endless possibilities it holds as you can create something from nothing. As a creative, your mind is your only limit.
How do you handle challenges like image resolution and image quality when working with AI?
It’s all in the prompts. You have to be very specific about what you want it to do—the more descriptive, the better.
Have you encountered any unexpected or unique challenges while working on AI image generation projects? How did you overcome them?
I have encountered many challenges, like disfigured hands and faces. I overcame the problems when I paid more attention to my prompts. Also, AI image generation is not perfect yet, so we’ll see how it will improve over time.
Many photographers fear that AI might replace them; how do you feel about this issue as a photographer?
As a creative, I felt that instead of replacing me, it would improve my work and enhance my creative process.
What role do you see the tech in the future of image creation and the visual arts industry?
I see AI being more intergraded in the visual arts industry. Once people grasp the concept, it will improve workflow and broaden the capabilities of image creation and content creation.
What are your thoughts on the potential impact of AI-generated images on traditional art forms and artists?
I believe it will further improve the art that is produced and expand the horizons of traditional art in a way we haven’t seen before.
Which image-generating platform do you use? Why do you prefer this platform?
I use Midjourney. It just gives me great control of how I want the final product to look.
You used the technology to depict the June 16th Soweto Uprising. With events like the June 16 Soweto Uprising that were extensively covered in the media, in your opinion, how would things like copyright and licensing issues have to be addressed for future AI creators?
I believe everyone has the ability to create; as long as that creation isn’t a replica of someone else’s work, then it’s ok. It would be nice to be able to regulate copyright licensing for the use of my art; the industry needs to grow more, though. I’m sure when there is more demand for AI visuals on a commercial market; then there will be licensing and copyrights.
Please tell us a little about your other photographic work. What genres and subject matter do you enjoy exploring?
I love fashion photography. Just telling stories through Portraiture and documentary photography makes me happy.
How will being a “real-life” photographer and an AI photographer influence your creative practice going forward?
My art has improved drastically, and the ideas I’m able to come up with have also improved a lot. It will help me elevate my craft until the next technological breakthrough that allows us to create even better than AI.