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Salomé Gomis-Trezise, Water
Salomé Gomis-Trezise, WaterCourtesy of Salomé Gomis-Trezise

The photographer using her iPhone and AI to envision alternate worlds

Salomé Gomis-Trezise began incorporating AI into her practice as a way of realising the full scope of her imagination without being confined by the cost of lavish shoots

The mass hysteria surrounding whether AI is the downfall of the arts is a divisive topic. But for 23-year-old multi-disciplinary artist Salomé Gomis-Trezise, AI has been a lifeline for her creativity – for while her funds are small and her ideas are big. With the self-proclamation that “I do all my own stunts”, Gomis-Trezise is truly an all-rounder: casting, styling, shooting, set building, props, and artistic direction. But this level of control is a costly exercise and one that has seen her struggle to pull together the shoots that have outgrown the confines of her imagination. 

Turning to AI to channel her ideas – of which she has filled notebooks-upon-notebooks – Gomis-Trezise has created a world full of hyperreal humans traversing love, family and the absurdity of the world. For the untrained eye, it’s almost impossible to discern who or what is real and what’s the work of AI. Existing just beneath the surface of reality, it’s in this in-between where Gomis-Trezise unleashes her magic.

Despite having quickly gained recognition that has pegged her as someone leading the AI artistic charge (in the right direction), Gomis-Trezise is already onto her next big thing, co-founding Bamba – a brand and ode to her West African heritage launching later this year. Below, we catch up with the artist to chat about the possibilities of overlooked technology, how artistic purism can hold you back, flying in the face of self-doubt and why artistic intent is all that matters.

Before you started working with AI, and still now, you shoot a lot on your iPhone – which I was initially surprised by. Why did you start using that as your primary camera?

Salomé Gomis-Trezise: I was having a creative block just before the lockdown. I was struggling to feel inspired or to like anything I was making. It was an endless loop of wanting to make things, doing it, not liking them, and then not wanting to make something, but then doing it. It was so uncomfortable because I love making things and genuinely need to create. So I started thinking about what I wanted to shoot and then it was like, what’s stopping me? It was Covid, so I couldn’t rent a studio or have a team of people help me. I took it upon myself to make something happen and I shot a self-portrait where I’m wrapped in plastic. It was so fun and made me realise that the most important thing is my eye and imagination – everything else is just a tool. You can have a £10,000 camera, or you can have your iPhone, but the intent behind it is what really comes through in the work. That’s what people respond to.

That idea of needing an expensive tool before starting something can be a form of procrastination.

Salomé Gomis-Trezise: It’s self-sabotage because you’re setting yourself limits based on these possessions you think will enhance what you already have inside. I needed to break out of that, which snowballed into having so many stories I wanted to tell and that I can’t sit around and wait to have access to these things to start.

It’s fascinating how you use AI in your work but also the reasons why. Can you expand on why and how you use AI and your journey so far?

Salomé Gomis-Trezise: It depends on what I want the image to look like. It’s either a fully text-based prompt. With AI, even with my normal photography, I write down narratives and I know how to describe my ideas. I have like 100 notebooks and hundreds of notes on my phone. Every time I have an idea, I write it down.

[In AI software] You can write a paragraph or a sentence, and it generates four images for you and you can make variations to each image. I like using text-based prompts with my own photography as a reference. Like, if I’m on the street and I see a colour palette I can use that as a reference with the text. [AI] allows me to make universes from scratch. I think that’s really what creativity is about – being able to bring your ideas to life. Or if I have a shoot idea or need a mood board for a client, and I can’t find a reference online, I can make it myself. 

“[AI] allows me to make universes from scratch” – Salomé Gomis-Trezise

There’s an essay by Maisie Cousins online, who is defending the use of AI, and I found it similar to what you’ve spoken to me about previously. She wrote: ‘Not everybody has loads of resources, but shouldn’t everybody be able to play in image making? The accessible nature offends some people, but there should be no gatekeepers of image making.’ Basically, imagination and expression shouldn’t be restricted to those who can afford to do it.

Salomé Gomis-Trezise: I know I’m super young and have so many years to experiment, but since I’ve done the whole DIY thing, I’ve made an extensive portfolio of work where I’ve been able to experiment and learn about set, movement, all of these things. I don’t want to feel restricted because I can’t build a £15k set – which is what I’d ideally like to do, but that’s unrealistic right now. AI is a good in-between. I can still get my ideas seen in a more tangible way than just writing them down for later.

With the characters in your work, can you play with the same characters, or are they different each time? 

Salomé Gomis-Trezise: In my experience, you can’t recreate or replicate faces. The AI still has a mind of its own and likes to distort things or make people look completely different. It’s sometimes frustrating because I’d love to make a series with a character. If I write a text prompt, it gives me four images, and if I don't like that and I change the prompt by one word, it won’t edit those four images, it gives me four completely new images.

It’s a little like gambling.

Salomé Gomis-Trezise: It literally is. You give your idea, you roll the dice. Maybe you’ll get it on the first go. Maybe you have to go ten, 15, 20 rounds. You never know.

This is interesting because many people dismiss AI as lazy or easy. But there’s a real-time and labour here.

Salomé Gomis-Trezise: It always boils down to intent, and people will do good and bad across every artistic medium and walks of life. Some people will use AI to disadvantage people and advantage themselves, and I agree if you’re taking jobs from people or the Marvel scandal, that’s wrong because you’re messing with someone’s livelihood. But if you’re creative and want to tell a story, and you have this tool that helps you bring that to life, and you’re not getting in the way of anyone else, then it’s just a tool.

Every time I’m asked this question, I always bring up that when painters found out about Photoshop or graphic design, they must have been outraged. But it’s the evolution of the planet. If you’re secure in what you do and trust in your talent, you can work across any medium. If I have an idea, I can write it through AI and generate an image, but I could also shoot it in person and generate an equally amazing image. The artistic merit for individuals using it as a tool, it feels like people are threatened.

There’s a sense of snobbery, but your reasons for using it are very valid – young artists, even established artists, can’t always afford to execute ideas.  

Salomé Gomis-Trezise: People forget that the artist is still behind the AI. I’m not saying it’s the most complicated thing, but people think AI is cheating because anyone can do it. Anyone who says that, just try it – have fun with it, play around with it, and then maybe you’ll see that it’s the same as any other medium you must learn to experiment with. The most important thing is the artist behind it, and that’s what always comes through. There’s still cohesiveness between my AI stuff and my normal photography that comes from its linked to my visual identity. The soul of the artists will always come through in their work.

Would you give up AI if you could shoot everything you wanted, or will it remain a major part of your practice?

Salomé Gomis-Trezise: To be honest, I’m bored of AI now. It was an experiment, I played around with it and chose to share it on Instagram. People got the opportunity to interact a bit, but I never make work for social media. I make it for myself. Now I’m way more drawn to making moving images and I’m working on my brand, Bamba. A lot of people now like, you’re an AI artist now, right? And I’m like, not really (laughs).

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