History: Exploration of an AI-Manipulated Reality

Re-Rewriting History is a year-long project that started because of a tweet I came across on X, which explained the editing capabilities of Google’s latest smartphone Pixel 8. Introducing two new features called Magic Eraser and Best Take, these tools allowed users to erase people, change entire backgrounds, remove specific sounds from videos, and change facial expressions of the subjects. 

The features are powered by Google’s AI technologies, which utilize generative AI to allow users some specific control over their photos.

Photo editing is not a new consequence to development— nor is it one that is unique to this decade, and to this smarter technology.

However, keeping in mind the aforementioned capabilities, is it still fair to categorize this practice as (harmless) photo editing, or rather the act of image manipulation?

Defining key terms: 


A series of simple, straightforward actions that allow users to control the brightness, contrast, saturation etc of the images, as well as numerous color filters on top. These steps don’t usually require advanced algorithms and deep-learning models to operate.

A series of more complex actions such as having the ability to remove entire people, change and recreate facial expressions, edit out specific sounds from videos, change skin tones and 
face shapes.

Image manipulation is not a new practice-- it’s almost as old as photography itself, with the first recorded instances occuring as early as the 1860s. 

Earliest techniques utilized airbrushing, ink and paint on the prints directly to manipulate them. Later, the techniques developed for altering negatives directly and creating double exposures.

With Photoshop launching in 1987, a greater deal of manipulation was now possible, with photorealistic, surreal results occuring rather easily for the users.  

What’s important to note is that throughout the progression of the field, image manipulation had always been an acquired skill. One had to be a master at their crag in painting or learn a specific skill or sogware to alter these images.

However, now with the use of AI-powered models in smartphone photography editing tools, every user is capable of making these changes. 

When such a powerful tool is made available to the mass public without properly defined rules and etiquette, it becomes increasingly susceptible to harmful consequences.

What are the repercussions of making this technology available to the mass public without proper safeguards? 

What does the reality look like when the digital world is so easily manipulated? 

And does our history provide us with any knowledge on manipulating information?

It begs the question of what it means to capture a truthful record of history.

What does our world look like when Generative AI plays an active 
role in building it? 

Re-Rewriting History aims to examine the use of this technology and the consequences of it being made available to mass public, without proper regulations and safeguards. 
If everyone has the power to alter and manipulate images, the object truth behind a photograph is lost. The act of doctoring image not only alters the narrative, but changes their personal history. 

The project collects instances from history, where manipulation has already occured. Its a series of photographs where people have been erased from history and a degree of manipulation has already occured. Utilizing Generative AI, the projects brings back these individuals and situates them in new environments and prompts the viewers to question the power, and the responsibility behind the tech.

Bringing people back and forcing us to come face-to-face with that reality is becoming as easy as clicking a button. What other long-standing consequences can it lead to? 

Joseph Stalin, Nikolai Yezhov
Moscow-Volga Canal

Joseph Stalin
Moscow-Volga Canal
Released by USSR, 1939

Nikolai Yezhov

Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Red Army

Vladimir Lenin,  Red Army
Released by USSR, 1920

Leon Trotsky

These images have multiple degrees of manipulation to them. Initially released as propaganda, 
they were photographed and designed and released to provide a specific message to the public, counting as the degree. 

When the people were erased, thry were done through techniques such as airbrushing, ink and paint on the prints, 
securely acting as the second degree of manipulation. 

And finally with the current use of AI, they are used to create a new reality 
where these inviduals can be brought back as easily as clicking a button, and writing a text input, 
promptly adding the third degree of manipulation. 

Goebbels Ghost
Dahlem, Berlin

Joseph Goebbels

Generative AI-based tools, and features that run on advanced algorithms, and deep-learning models are becoming the norm. 
Without proper ettiquette, the responsibilty is not realised, and the consequences increase exponentially.  
It just leaves the question:

Is there an objective truth to a photograph anymore?


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