They came from The Book of Veles by Jonas Bendiksen, an award-winning documentary photographer who had traveled to North Macedonia, which had been home to a vibrant fake news industry during the 2016 US election. “I imagine any minute now Jonas will reveal that the people in the images are computer generated as a ‘clever’ ‘take’ on fake news,” Chesterton tweeted—words Bendiksen read with a surge of relief. The next day, the prestigious cooperative Magnum Photo posted an interview in which Bendiksen revealed that although he had traveled to Veles, every person and bear in his images was digitally faked using 3D models like those used to make videogames. Visiting Veles, a once communist city like those he had photographed before, could provide a way to offer his own perspective on fake news. Searching online, he discovered the city had associations that could add conceptual dressing: A Slavic god of trickery named Veles features in an archaeological text called The Book of Veles, now believed to be a 20th century forgery.
“This was much easier; I had no intention of meeting anyone.” As he toured shabby streets and factories, he also pursued himself, trying to imagine what images typical of his own work would satisfy people’s expectations. At each location where he took a photo, he also used a pocket-sized 360-degree camera to capture the lighting so he could later recreate it with fake people.His approach had more in common with conventional photo manipulation and Hollywood special effects than with deepfake imagery, generated with machine learning, which has spurred concerns about a new wave of trickery.