Wes Hargrove

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The Standoff: Inspiration

This photograph is brought to you by a sentient artist.

“a bison stares at you from a distance”

There was no “prompt engineering” here. Only a photographer (that’s me!), a menacing bison, and a long telephoto lens (to maintain a safe distance between us).

Perhaps there was a “prompt”, as in, inspiration for this photograph. There’s a somewhat high probability I’d seen another like it prior to venturing out into the cold of Yellowstone’s Northern Range as snow showers closed in on the area. I’ll admit I had this photo in mind but can’t pinpoint the origin of that inspiration.

In that way, producing this art is not unlike the fledgling generative AI systems dominating the media (and your feeds) these days. My work is contingent on layers of inspiration and knowledge from mentors and other photographers I admire and respect.

But art is much deeper than the outcome. In those moments, when the shutter lifts and photons of light begin to pour onto the sensor, a connection is made between the photographer and their environment. The singe of the bitter cold on my cheek. The muffled sounds of footprints in freshly fallen snow. Eyes locked with a shaggy-haired beast, a relic of a not-too-distant past that filled these lands before folks who look like me decided this land was better suited for railroads and interstates and pipelines.

The shutter closes. The moment is over. Captured. But the connection is made.

These moments are the transformative parts of art. These experiences and the connections forged between ourselves and nature, the land, and its inhabitants are the essence of what it means to be an artist. This vital meaning-making, at least for now, is what sets us apart from the non-sentient matrix-multiplying algorithms.