Decorative image of a realistic AI depiction of a 'girl'

Designing Women: Real People, AI Models, and the Promise of Representation

This talk examines how fashion industry insiders have responded to public pressure to diversify representations. Given the symbolic weight of fashion and the ethical, political, artistic, and market-driven considerations that go into creatives’ decisions, this has and continues to be a cyclical (and often cynical) process of expansion and retraction, with a circular blame game about where power actually resides. In this talk I ask: What can we learn from how fashion industry professionals frame both the problem and promise of representation? How do their proposed solutions—ranging from AI-generated models to amateur “real people”—reveal underlying theories about (1) how these images are designed to work, and (2) the quality and quantity of human bodies, faces, and types, the energy required to find and develop them, and how they transmit through different media. Placing AI-generated models within a longer trajectory of “real people” models (contra “real models”), I trace peripatetic, algorithmic, and research-based strategies casting professionals have used to find new talent to show how many of the underlying logics, methods of discernment, and foundational urges in casting practices remain fixed.

Dr. Stephanie Sadre-Orafai
Taft Professor of Social Justice, 2023–26
Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Cincinnati

March 4, 2024 – noon
WCP 5.118 – UT Austin

Anthropology Department Seminar Series in partnership with the Bureau for Experimental Ethnography