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Photographer uses AI to imagine how deceased celebrities would look if they were alive today

‘So surreal. So soft. So alive’

Chelsea Ritschel
New York
Monday 03 October 2022 02:47 BST
Photographer uses AI to imagine what John Lennon would look like if he were alive today
Photographer uses AI to imagine what John Lennon would look like if he were alive today (Alper Yesiltas)

A photographer has shared a collection of images he created using artificial intelligence that imagines what notable figures and celebrities would look like if they were alive today.

Alper Yesiltas, a lawyer who lives in Istanbul, Turkey, has spent the last 19 years “imagining scenes and capturing memories,” according to an essay he wrote for BoredPanda.

For his first AI-based collection, Yesiltas decided to imagine how people would “look photo-realistically if some great events had not happened to them,” with the project, titled: “As If Nothing Happened,” depicting how individuals such as Princess Diana, Michael Jackson and Kurt Cobain would look if they hadn’t died.

In the first image of the collection, Yesiltas used AI to imagine how British singer-songwriter Freddie Mercury would look had he not died at the age of 45 from bronchial pneumonia due to Aids-related complications.

In the photo, Mercury, who could be seen wearing a white button down and black suspenders, is imagined as having greying hair, with his moustache also turning the same shade of silver.

The collection also includes an interpretation of Amy Winehouse, who died from alcohol poisoning at the age of 27. In his photo, shared on his Instagram page, Winehouse is depicted slightly older and posing with a guitar, with the singer, whose black hair has remained, smiling widely.

Yesiltas also sought to imagine what Heath Ledger would look like if he had not died at the age of 28 from an accidental overdose, with the image showing the Australian actor up close as he stares at the camera. In the photo, Ledger’s hair can be seen greying, while wrinkles can be seen forming around his eyes.

For the project, the photographer also used AI to depict what Princess Diana may have looked like had she not died in a car crash when she was 36. In the photo, Diana, who held the title Princess of Wales when she was alive, smiles slightly, with her skin showing both wrinkles and age spots.

In the photo, the royal’s blonde hair has turned a nearly-white shade, with a pair of sunglasses placed on her head.

The project also saw Yesiltas produce images of celebrities including Janis Joplin, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Lee, and 2Pac.

On BoredPanda and social media, where the photographer has shared the images, viewers have been moved by the results, with many sharing their emotional responses to the AI creations.

“I absolutely love seeing this. Michael was naturally super handsome and it would’ve been wonderful to see him like this,” one person commented under the photo of the “Beat It” singer, while another said: “I love this so much. So surreal. So soft. So alive.”

In the comments under the photo of Lennon, someone else called the photos “peaceful”.

“Amazing. These images radiate so much peace for me,” they wrote.

As for how Yesiltas came up with the idea for the project, he wrote that the concept came to him when thinking about what would make him “happiest”.

“When I started tinkering with technology, I saw what I could do and thought about what would make me the happiest. I wanted to see some of the people I missed again in front of me and that’s how this project emerged,” he wrote.

Speaking to The Independent, the photographer said that the reactions to the photos, which have been mostly positive, have encouraged him for the future. “I got mostly positive comments. There were also many controversial ones. But in general, I can say that people’s reactions encourage me for the future. I think of artificial intelligence as a tool that can activate some emotions that people didn’t know were there before. This comes from the limitlessness of artificial intelligence in imagination when properly guided by a human,” he said.

Yesiltas also discussed the process used to create the images, which he said requires using “various software”.

“Some for obtaining realistic textures and light, others for photo editing (people around me were considering me as a good photo-editor for some time). The most important part is making the image I’m processing feel realistic to me,” he explained. “Intentionally or unintentionally, I know a lot about the person I’m working with. Naturally the moment I like the most is when I think the image in front of me feels ‘real’. I’m starting to work on a state that I wish he/she would always stay that way. The time I spend with a single image varies, but I would say it takes ‘a while’”.

As for his favourite celebrity to imagine, Yesiltas said it was probably Michael Jackson, because he started with the singer. “With the development of AI technology, I’ve been excited for a while, thinking that ‘anything imaginable can be shown in reality,’” he said.

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