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The Arrival of AI and the Birth of Zooberdashery

Tools: Midjourney, ChatGPT, Gemini | Role: Curious Artist | Location: New York

 

"Silky Sloth" by Amon Focus | Zooberdashery
“Silky Sloth” by Amon Focus for Zooberdashery

 

My first encounter with artificial intelligence (AI) came during a 2016 photoshoot. It was a fashion shoot. I was the photographer and assisted a good friend of mine, René Mantilla, who designs beautiful chapeaux and leather accessories. He’d secured the actress Marisol “Flaca” Gonzalez from “Orange is the New Black” as a model. On collaborative shoots like this, everyone who shows up contributes a bit. There’s the makeup artist, the stylist, and even a jewelry person who showcases their pieces in the photos. A lot of what you see in a photograph is intentional. Even though the shoot focused on Rene’s hats, the jewelry person would naturally try to get their pieces on the actress for exposure. This creates an environment for conversation and downtime. While the talent is getting ready with makeup, I chat with people.

At some point, a friend of a friend of a friend starts talking about emerging technologies. I distinctly remember him discussing how he wanted to create content for his website. He said, and I’m paraphrasing, “The AI will scour the internet on a specific topic, then write an article without human intervention…” He was talking about figuring out a way to automate the writing of articles for his website while he’s off doing something else. I was stunned. My immediate thought then was that the idea of such a technology sounded exploitive, circumventing, useless, and out of my reach. It felt like he was sharing a dark web story. With so much content already saturating social media and websites, wouldn’t these AI-written pieces just add to the noise? I filed it away mentally and didn’t think much about it until years later.

"Happy Swine" by Amon Focus for Zooberdashery
“Happy Swine” by Amon Focus for Zooberdashery

Like smartphones, social media, cryptocurrency, and even Covid, there’s often the calm before the storm – a murmur of what’s brewing. Then, suddenly, it’s everywhere. AI began to follow that pattern. Because of that conversation in 2016, I wasn’t as surprised by its rapid rise.

However, it was still startling. When ChatGPT came along, I played with it, unsure of its purpose. It was fun and promising. Back then, say around 3.0, prompting ChatGPT for writing resulted in verbose, hyper-intelligent text. It was impressive but clearly, in my humble opinion, just a novelty. I shelved it for a while.

"Collage Skull" by Amon Focus for Zooberdashery
“Collage Skull” by Amon Focus for Zooberdashery

Then came Midjourney. Intrigued, I explored it. Conversations around AI are often laced with fear. Disliking fear, I decided to confront it head-on. Experimenting with Midjourney, I found myself drawn to skulls, pushing the boundaries of their aesthetics. As an artist, I know the importance of working within stylistic rules. Gradually, these skulls evolved into photorealistic animals.

Believing these photorealistic animals would look even cooler dressed up, I started playing with the idea of “well-dressed animals.” The word “haberdashery” popped into my head. I loved the word – its connection to fashion and its whimsical sound. Since I was working with animals and style, and finding unique names online is nearly impossible, I merged “zoo” with “haberdashery” to create “Zooberdashery.” It was a fun, catchy name for my collection.

"A Dog Named Prodigy" by Amon Focus for Zooberdashery
“A Dog Named Prodigy” by Amon Focus for Zooberdashery

For weeks, I immersed myself in creating stylish animals. Daily usage of Midjourney was a little expensive, and with the constant rendering of characters, the costs added up to $20-30 a month. Then, one creation startled me. It was an underwater creature dressed impeccably, yet unlike any alien, I’d seen in movies or conspiracy theories. It looked real, sending shivers down my spine. This sparked the birth of Zooberdashery short stories.

Through Midjourney, ChatGPT, Gemini and Claude, I wondered: Could I improve my storytelling with this technology? How could I leverage AI to tell better stories that terrified and intrigued me? I wanted to break it. I wanted to test, play, fold, merge, destroy, and rebuild my understanding of what a genuinely compelling story could be. I haven’t figured it out; I never will, but it is so much fun trying. In practice, as a creative, I’m stronger for it. 

"WTF Am I Looking At" by Amon Focus for Zooberdashery
“WTF Am I Looking At” by Amon Focus for Zooberdashery

Creating Zooberdashery and its stories while embracing the best of AI keeps me at the forefront of this evolving technology. By actively creating, I stay informed about advancements. I believe there will be two worlds: those who embrace AI and push boundaries and those who become relics left behind by a technology they refused to participate in.

I don’t view AI as a savior, but I’d rather actively engage with it than be left in the dark, fearing the unknown. Zooberdashery is my training ground. By practicing, immersing myself, experimenting, and even failing with these emerging technologies, I’m honing my craft and pushing the boundaries of storytelling. It’s a vulnerable act, admitting that my creative writing skills may be limited. But AI offers a metaphorical “mechanical suit” to overcome these limitations and explore new creative territories, propelling my creativity, skillset, and imagination as an artist, entrepreneur, and storyteller.

Check Out Some of the Stories I’ve Created So Far:

  1. Nutty By Nature
  2. The Rise of the Teacup Sloth
  3. The Gravity of Taste: How One Farm’s Unconventional Method Challenges Our Meat Production Paradigms
  4. How ‘One Puppet Parties’ Challenge Our Views on Diversity
  5. How a Group of Bald, Out-of-Shape Sphinx Cats Are Sending a Grave Message
  6. Nip, Not Maim: Uncovering the Dark Side of Dog Bites
  7. Who Needs Enemies with Friends Like You
  8. How Breaking Bones Became a Lesson in Kindness for This NYC Taxi Driver

 

"Alone in the Crowd" by Amon Focus for Zooberdashery
Alone in the Crowd” by Amon Focus for Zooberdashery

If any of this resonates with you, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Shoot me a message, or if you have my digits, call. Let’s talk about it.

Thanks for walking with me.

 

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