The Meat Paradox / FOAM Magazine #63 / FOOD! - The Nourishing Issue

Farming; Food; Workers; (Pig); Dog; Table; Sitting; (Eating); Happiness; Harmony. Berlin-based photographer Florian Maas plugs his keywords – some set between brackets for heightened emphasis – into Stable Diffusion, a deep learning, text-to-image AI tool. If the words above offer raw ingredients for a pretty unappetising visual soup, Stable Diffusion might well be the supercharged pressure cooker; at dizzying speed, recipes of inputted terms conjure new and unsettling images, informed by unimaginably vast databases of existing ones.

A vegan for the past decade, Maas conceived his project, The Meat Paradox, to dissect the hypocrisies of animal consumption in no uncertain terms. Though in devolving creative authority to his AI tool, the resultant images initially lacked the desired gut punch, falling short of the artist’s own grotesque impression of meat manufacturing. Keywords like ‘farming’ more frequently conjured portrayals of healthy cattle – grazing verdant pastures under sweeping blue skies – than anything disquieting, as if to avert our gaze from reality once more. These dominant images, deployed across the food industry to validate our consumption habits, displaced uglier truths. Depictions of animals enduring cramped and squalid conditions, knee-deep in their own excrement, were nowhere to be seen. Neither was the grim act of slaughter.
For Maas, producing the hard-hitting work he envisaged meant addressing this imbalance – which in turn meant ‘feeding’ further images into Stable Diffusion, supplementing those the AI had already ‘seen’ from open-source databases like Pinterest or Flickr. ‘It’s a case of summoning pictures,’ Maas muses of his somewhat curatorial approach to image-making. In the same way that particular words could be emphasised in shaping the generator’s visual outcomes, so too could photographs. Warts-and-all shots of industrial farming practices were introduced, such as those taken undercover by activist groups like We Animals, offering Maas’ macabre series an added dose of uncomfortable realism.

words by George H. King, excerpt from the essay within FOAM Magazine #63