Appropriately, Miskin’s account contained a promise that it would be difficult to verify that his profile picture was created by an AI. Bendixen spent weeks curating his account in North Macedonia to look like an avid freelance photographer. He sent friend requests to hundreds of people in the photography industry. Several people back and forth, including the museum’s curator and magazine photographer.
When Bendixon arrived at Perpignan, his repetitions weighed heavily on him. “I had stomach disease, but I felt I needed to document that the screening was actually done,” he says. He avoided the whirlpool of networks, ate alone, hid in a hotel room, and avoided meeting acquaintances. On the night of the screening, he arrived early and took a high seat in the bleachers, trying to hide behind his face mask. As soon as Welles’ video was released, he saw a series of images of his bears. “My heart was beating,” says Bendixon. “I thought the bear was the weakest link.”
The next day Bendiksen returned to Norway and a few days later attacked himself with the aim of revealing the truth before the main event of the festival was over. He logged into Miskin’s Facebook account saying “His project is real fake news!!” declared. and wrote a post accusing him of paying for fraudulent poses.
Bendixon’s caution is that the post didn’t get much attention. He reposted the allegations on the Private Photos Facebook group, raising the argument that the participants accepted most of Miskin’s claims, but paid with little skepticism for the subject in the photo. Bendixon, who was planning a shabby self-immolation, hardened Miskin’s Twitter presence and eventually caught the eye of British filmmaker Chesterton, who called the project a shot. “It was a huge weight off my shoulders,” says Bendixen.
He called Caitlin Hughes, CEO of Magnum. Caitlin Hughes, like most others in the agency, was mired in darkness. She was standing with her husband on the streets of London, where it rained at night, when she learned that the company had published a book and sold counterfeit prints. “I knew he was working some secret, but I didn’t expect it,” she says. “It really rocks the sky in documentary photography.” The next day, Magnum posted a neat interview with Bendixen, warning the wider world of photography.
Jean-François Leroy, long-time director of Visa Pour l’Image, learned he had a flat tire at the prestigious festival when Bendiksen emailed him a link to the interview. The revelation left a sour taste. “We’ve known Jonas for years and trust him,” says Leroy, who says he’s “stuck.” At the festival, we sometimes ask photographers to view raw, unedited images, but we didn’t ask Bendixen, whose work has been featured in the past. “I think Jonas should have told me it was a fake,” Leroy said, allowing the festival to be marked by revealing and discussing the stunts and their implications.
There is a warm feeling among others involved in the Bendixen project. Julian Montague, an artist and graphic designer in Buffalo, NY, noticed that Bendixon posted a link to Magnum’s interview on Facebook and read it with interest. He bought the book earlier this year after becoming interested in the concept of the fake news industry and the aesthetics of the former Eastern Bloc. Bendixon’s image was gritty and moody, and he felt that he was clever rather than clever. Now they feel different – in a way that makes his experience better rather than fooling him. “It’s interesting to revisit photography with that knowledge,” he says. “I admire it as an experiment and a work of art and agree that it is a harbinger of a terrible future.”
Chesterton, who triggered Bendixen’s announcement, called the project “great” for a number of reasons. He sees its core value as a spotlight on the failure of the photographic industry, not as an indicator of the growth potential of composite images.