German photographer Benjamin Pfau experiments with technology and ingrained stereotypes to create a false narrative

If the artist hadn’t told us, we would have thought he was really in Rio de Janeiro taking pictures for this project. Knowing that he has never been there challenges the viewer to search for revealing details in images retrieved from the internet and then processed by an algorithm. It’s a game that makes us question the patterns of our gaze, as well as a reminder that the next time we see constructed images, we might believe they’re real.

Rio de Janeiro is often called Cidade Maravilhosa – the marvelous city. A fitting name, as it has captured the imagination of people all over the world.

And it’s a place I’ve never visited in person. The marvelous city displayed here is a product of the Internet. All photographs in this series are artifacts extracted from on-demand cloud services that were available to me during the second COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in Germany in winter 2020/2021. These services include Google Maps, Google Street View, various video streaming providers and social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, and StyleGAN2, an algorithm that enables data-driven, unconditional generative image modeling. The majority of portraits in this series are either produced or edited using cloud-based generative facial modeling.

Applying a plating we are used to through the traditional practice of documentary photography, the images are taken out of their original context and presented as a personal essay aimed at investigating the truthfulness and general mechanics of the photographic essay to now and for what is to come.

Words and pictures of Benjamin Pfau


Benjamin Pfau is a German photographer. He explores themes of alienation and isolation by creating expansive photojournals, which are often juxtaposed with poetry and other forms of writing. In recent years his interest has shifted to dissecting the digital landscape and studying generative image modeling. Follow him on instagram and PhMuseum.


This feature is part of Story of the Week, a handpicked selection of relevant projects from our community by curators at the PhMuseum.

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