Fake news, a Slavic god, an old apocryphal book and bears: the report by photographer Jonas Bendiksen, screened during the Perpignan photojournalism festival in early September, had it all. His book The Book of Veles, presented on the big screen, described his experience in Veles, a small town in Macedonia which became known in 2016 by becoming a center of production of false information, these “alternative truths” which weighed on the election of Donald Trump .

Except that everything was false: Friday, September 17, the photographer revealed, in a long interview published on the site of his agency, Magnum, that the characters in the report were virtual beings bought on the Internet, and that the text had been entirely written by artificial intelligence. “It’s“ fake news ”about the producers of“ fake news ”, he says. The story according to which Vélès is a production center for “fake news” is true. The story of the discovery and making of the Book of Veles is true. But all the content is wrong. ” The text online recounts through the menu the development of this immense deception, which he conceived as a ” shock therapy “, a way to open the eyes of his profession to the danger posed by the flood of images and information generated by machines, less and less detectable.

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Met in Paris, on the sidelines of the annual general meeting of the Magnum agency, the 44-year-old Norwegian photographer is not unhappy with his shot. Recognized for his author documentary works, including The Last Testament (The Last Testament), exhibited in Arles in 2018, he is still surprised to have fooled his colleagues at Magnum, and the entire profession, with “A work of total amateur” : “I’m just a geeky photographer who spent a lot of time on his computer during confinement. The software that I used, in free access, is already totally outdated. But, if this amateur job can pass the filters of a very seasoned profession, it means that we are very vulnerable to what is happening: images and texts that we cannot say about ourselves. they are true or false, whether they are made by humans or by machines. ”

“Images that are too ‘photoshopped'”

All the adventure of The Book of Veles, He says, arose out of his frustration at the rise of lies and disinformation during Donald Trump’s tenure. He looked at the city of Veles, whose unemployed residents had found a way to earn money by fabricating “fake news”, influencing American politics from Macedonia. But the photographer also discovered that the name “Veles” was intrinsically involved in the deception: there is a Slavic god of the pre-Christian era, Veles, concealer and magician. And a mythical work, the “Book of Veles”, a sacred Slavic text with mysterious runes, discovered in 1919, but considered by researchers to be apocryphal. “All these stories of forgery and manipulation around Veles… It was irresistible. “

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