these shamans don’t exist, but one architect still captures their portraits

Imaginary shamans by Dimitar Karanikolov

These shamans aren’t healing anyone in real life, but through artificial intelligence and Midjourneya chat-powered text-to-image generator, architect and travel photographer Dimitar Karanikolov has given them living bodies and faces through these realistic portraits for his series ‘Imaginary Shamans’. The mecca of the architect comes to the surface as he snakes through the visuals of the shamans and healers and their culture.

His explorations culminate in a photographic anthology where a sense of eeriness and weariness drifts into the images. From the creases that run along the shamans’ faces to the traditional tattoos that ink their faces, the details in every image appear crystal clear, making viewers doubt whether they are generated by artificial intelligence or snapped by a professional photographer.


images courtesy of Dimitar Karanikolov

Artificial intelligence in digital media

Digital media has been disrupting the art world (more about that here) as creatives turn to and invest their time in the hyperrealistic powers of artificial intelligence. From artists using image generators for streetwear like Nike and intergalactic fashion campaigns to turn graffiti into products of architecture, the catalog of AI’s extent goes on and keeps streaming, encouraging some twisted-and-bent manipulations in the creative industry.

Dimitar Karanikolov plays with the offerings and AI and explores the traditions of shamans across the world, typing words related to the masterminds behind the medicinal prowess of non-hospital treatments and generating mystic portraits that can evoke awe for the realism they exude or concern for the future of photography.

Dimitar Karanikolov imaginary shamans ai
these images were created through Midjourney

Generating images from words

Internet citizens have gathered on Karanikolov’s social media platforms, especially on Instagram where he introduced the series, to share their thoughts on the breakthrough of AI and its overlaps with skill-based photography. One commenter admires the portraits and calls them stunning, but they fear that endorsing the use of artificial intelligence in a field where mastery is required might change the essence of the art for life.

Another wonders if Karanikolov used photos as references for the shamans. ‘Just a description in words,’ the architect writes on the post. Those descriptions that he fed the generator might have varied, but the results underline both the beauty artificial intelligence can generate and the underlying fright it might bring.

Dimitar Karanikolov imaginary shamans ai
Karanikolov jut typed descriptions to generate these portraits

Dimitar Karanikolov imaginary shamans ai
Imaginary Shamans capture the healers across cultures

Dimitar Karanikolov imaginary shamans ai
the images are extremely detailed

Dimitar Karanikolov imaginary shamans ai
the series culminates in close-up images

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