Computer software is so advanced today that artists can make photo portraits of people who don't exist. Amsterdam photographer Bas Uterwijk embraced this technique to bring historical figures to life, and was noticed this week by international media.

"Developments are moving very fast," says Uterwijk, who uses the advanced Artbreeder program. "I am still inventing and experimenting a lot."

Uterwijk has worked as a photographer for the past fourteen years and has been using artificial intelligence to make reconstructions of historical figures since 2019. "For Napoleon I entered ten to twenty paintings. The software then tries to place that in a kind of trained library of faces. After squeezing between them, he creates an almost photo-realistic image."

Uterwijk made a photo-realistic reconstruction of Rembrandt van Rijn, among other things. Photo: Bas Uterwijk.

Processing can take months

That does not happen completely automatically, the artist explains. "It only works with faces. I try to photoshop everything you see about clothing and classic hairstyles. In addition, you can always adjust the output a little."

Most portraits are not finished in an afternoon, Uterwijk explains. "I can take weeks to get it. Vincent van Gogh took months to get it right. I could probably improve it if I worked on it, but at some point you have to bring it out."

Uterwijk used ten to twenty existing paintings for his reconstruction of Napoleon Bonaparte. Photo: Bas Uterwijk.

'Anne Frank is sensitive'

Uterwijk has done so far via his Instagram channel, where dozens of edits can now be found. In the meantime, he is testing with prints whether a photo series is feasible for an exhibition.

The photographer often works on several projects at the same time. For example, Anne Frank is currently ready for processing. "It will take a while yet," explains Uterwijk. "I want to approach her with integrity. If you don't have Napoleon completely perfect, nobody will fall over that. But Anne Frank is very sensitive."

Uterwijk does not want to make a reconstruction of an existing photo this time. "There are already quite a few photos of her as a young girl," says the artist. "I hope to make a picture of Anne Frank at an age she never had."

One of the most recent reconstructions that Uterwijk made: a portrait of George Washington. Photo: Bas Uterwijk.