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The Enigmatic, Unknown 'Royal' Photographer
Sometimes, the journey shapes the destination.
I’ve spent the last couple of weeks mired in historic photographs of the Royal Family and the Coronation of King Charles. Along the way I happened upon this remarkable image taken by Bert Hardy in 1947. It wasn’t what I was looking for, but it was perfect.
Hardy was a staff photographer for the Picture Post, tasked with covering the wedding of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in London. Crowds gathered to catch a glimpse of the Royal couple when a woman boldly slipped past a line of “Bobbies” to make a photo.
Hardy’s photo is magnificent — from the stylish headscarf to the gloved hand on her Leica and slight bend of her knees. The myriad of faces and expressions. Her bravado. I had to know the identity of this “Royal Photographer.”
I spent hours digging with no luck. As a last ditch effort, and for fun, I decided to ask ChatGPT (OpenAI’s free AI chatbot). “Who is the woman photographer featured in Bert Hardy’s 1947 black and white image called ‘Royal Photographer’?”
Seconds later, I had an answer. “The woman photographer featured in Bert Hardy’s photograph ‘Royal Photographer’ is Jane Bown,” ChatGPT responded convincingly.
“What is your source for that information?” I followed up. ChatGPT answered, “The specific information about Bert Hardy’s photograph ‘Royal Photographer’ and its context was obtained from a news article on The Guardian website that discusses the photograph and its significance.” At last!
I was familiar with Jane Bown, a staff photographer with The Guardian for over 50 years, and recently featured a photo of her’s on Field of View. In 1947, the year of Hardy’s photo, Bown would have been 22. That tracks. So I posted the photo on Instagram.
But, unfortunately, that’s not Jane Bown.
Luke Dodd, former archive director at The Guardian, checked with Bown’s family and confirmed, “It’s not Jane: wrong camera, wrong hair.”
So I decided to ask ChatGPT again. Here’s that bizarre conversation:
To be fair, ChatGPT is notoriously inaccurate. Fast Company went so far as to call it “astoundingly glib.” With that in mind, I kept the conversation going, asking about another, more well-known photograph.
There’s so much wrong with answer that it’s hard to know where to begin. For the record, John Filo took the photo of Mary Ann Vecchio screaming over the dead body of Jeffrey Miller at Kent State in 1970.
And Marjorie Gestring was an American springboard diver in the 1936 Olympics.
Right now, ChatGPT is akin to having a conversation with that know-it-all friend we all have — confident in their answers, but deep down they really don’t know what they’re talking about.
And AI Photography? No thanks.