Batshit Times #3
All new trends surface in magazines at some point—it’s the medium’s lifeblood—and right now we’re seeing Artificial Intelligence in its various forms appear in print.
Magazines have always offered space for experimental image creation, so the appeal of AI manipulation is a natural one. As is the link between digital platforms like Instagram and the printed page: we love collections of images, whether as feeds or pages.
While we see AI increasingly pop up here and there in magazines generally, Batshit Times majors on the technology, using it to reflect the chaos of our times. Launched during the pandemic—the name refers to the origins of Covid as much as to the current state of the world—it presents sets of images with a strong focus on AI creation and manipulation.
Here, in five pictures, is an overview of the magazine, giving a sense its use of AI to challenge our times.
This interview with indie publishing veteran Ben Ditto neatly sums up the magazine’s approach. ‘My Instagram account is like a magazine in 2022,’ he tells us as he discusses his desire to create and share images that resonate with his followers. The set of images on the right are AI-generated faces developed from meat, that were blocked by Instagram. The images are typical of Batshit Times—provocative and challenging. Note the intro text is written in Norwegian, with the suggestion to use a translation app. More AI in use.
Other images use more traditional methods of production; this one by photographer Ileana Ninn is part of a series concerning identity and facelessness. The images are accompanied by an interview transcribed in four different ways: the original English; two translations to French—one by human and one by AI; and the French AI translated back to English. The texts are remarkably similar.
Editor Peter McCain contributes a poem and its accompanying series of manipulated portraits. The square images echo the Instagram feed, and are just distorted enough to be uncomfortable viewing and not repulsive. It’s an intriguing line—are these gentle manipulations more disturbing than more extreme creations?
Across its 300 pages Batshit Times portrays a pretty dark sense of human activity. It revels in the found image and the manipulated image, using them to express the daily chaos of 21st century life. As such, the magazine is resolutely ‘ugly’ in the conventional sense, a context into which the subject of sex might have taken the reader in exceptionally dark directions. Thankfully the one story focused on sex and sexuality stands apart from the general mood in two ways.
First, Noelle Duquette’s images of twenties womanhood are shot using film, their creator noting the joy of glitches caused by dust in the analogue process (she avoids Photoshop). And second, she says of her work, ‘My Sweet Smut series is a way of not taking myself too serious.’ The pictures are bright and humorous, treading a careful line that, as Duqeutte acknowledges, nods to other artists such as filmmaker John Waters. The pictures are far from explicit and match her description of them as ‘Jocular and madcap’.
My favourite images in the issue are Oriana Confente’s experiments using generative image creation to echo plants growing in a garden. More than a handy anology, the addition of human forms raise all sorts of questions about where AI is going to take us as ideas of what the Metaverse might be continue to be argued and discussed.
As noted above, we’re seeing AI pop up across many magazines at present, but none are taking advantage of current experiments with the technology in such an explicit manner as Batshit Times. Nor at such depth—its 300 pages is really an analogue Instagram feed, sharing just enough of each artists work before you turn to the next one.
Yet despite its powerful use of AI, the resulting magazine makes a strong argument that the human editor is a better arbitor of choice than a mere algorithm.
Creative director and Editor-in-chief Peter McCain
Design consultant Hugo Christian-Slane