by Steven Hirsch (well, sort of)

Editor's note: For years, brutjournal contributing photographer and artist Steven Hirsch, who is based in New York, has made his living shooting so-called street photography and photos of crooks, misfits, and bad guys reporting for their trials in the criminal courts in downtown Manhattan.

His photos appear in tabloid newspapers and sometimes serve as source material for his boldly colored, energetic paintings.

The missing person Emily’s eyes from Steven Hirsch’s painting “Emily,” 2024. Photo of artwork courtesy of the artist

Hirsch never hesitates to embrace and start exploring the creative potential of a new camera or other gizmo. Lately, he has been seen deploying a Fujifilm instax mini Evo camera, a digital model that allows a user to make small photo prints with the device itself. More recently, Hirsch has been tinkering with OpenAI’s ChatGPT artificial intelligence software, which allows a user to generate, well, just about anything, including images.

Hirsch, whose work for tabloid newspapers keeps him in touch with the maelstrom of tawdry news about politicians’ sex scandals, serial killers, freakish crimes, bad haircuts, and assorted other forms of decadence, kookiness, and depravity that are the very essence of American culture and society, told us: “I first started painting missing people in October 2021. In 2021 alone, according to the National Crime Information Center Missing Person and Unidentified Person Files for that year, 521,705 people were reported missing.”

Now, with his interest in that topic and in the new AI technology in mind, Hirsch explained, “I thought missing persons would make for some interesting subject matter for my paintings. In most of the paintings in what has become my ‘Missing’ series, each portrait’s subject is painted over a map of where he or she was last seen. I thought such maps would make interesting abstract backgrounds for figurative paintings.”

Hirsch said, “Recently, a friend of mine published a fictionalized novel written by AI. This got me thinking about writing stories to accompany the paintings in my ‘Missing’ series. This seemed like a logical use for this technology — creating a story about what actually happened to each missing person, given that, typically, little is known about the circumstances leading up to and surrounding the disappearances of such individuals. I found the info for the missing persons I depicted from the FBI’s website and fed it into an AI text generator.”

The missing person Emily’s mouth from Steven Hirsch’s painting “Emily,” 2024. Photo of artwork courtesy of the artist

Below are two samples of the narrative texts Hirsch’s artificial intelligence collaborator has produced to accompany his paintings “Emily” and “Mary Brown.” We’re presenting these two tests here unedited, exactly as they appeared when ChatGPT spat them out.

About the power of the new technology, Hirsch observed, “AI-generated art is interesting, whether it be writing, art, or music, but as in the case of synthesized music from the 1980s, I feel that it lacks soul; it feels cold, robotic, and as though it’s lacking emotion. I’ve used it to generate ideas and as a reference tool.”

Steven Hirsch, “Emily,” 2024, acrylic on canvas, 17 x 22 inches (43.18 x 55.88 centimeters). Photo of artwork courtesy of the artist

Written by ChatGPT:


In the quaint town of Willowbrook, nestled amidst lush greenery and serene landscapes, there lived a young woman named Emily. She was known for her captivating dark hair that cascaded down her shoulders and her fondness for vintage fashion, often seen in her signature blue dress with a pristine white collar.

One chilly evening, as twilight painted the sky with hues of orange and pink, Emily left her workplace, a cozy bookstore in the heart of the town. She bid farewell to her colleagues and set off on her usual route to catch the bus home. Dusk had settled in by the time she reached the bus stop, the only sounds echoing were the rustling of leaves and distant murmurs of the evening commuters.

However, Emily never made it onto the bus that evening. Concern started to brew amongst her friends and family when she failed to return home. Frantic searches ensued, but no trace of Emily was found. The town was enveloped in an eerie silence as days turned into weeks, and weeks into months.

Despite exhaustive efforts by law enforcement, the case grew colder with each passing day. Compounding the mystery was the absence of surveillance cameras near the bus stop, leaving investigators with little to work with. The only lead came from a witness who claimed to have seen Emily walking down the street with a mysterious figure clad in dark attire following her, a hood pulled over his head and a scarf obscuring his features.

Months later, a grim discovery shook the town to its core. Emily's lifeless body was found deep within the woods that bordered Willowbrook. Her once vibrant spirit now silenced forever. The blue dress with the white collar she was last seen wearing was now stained with the passage of time and tragedy.

Despite an exhaustive investigation, the identity of Emily's killer remained shrouded in mystery. The townsfolk whispered tales of a shadowy figure haunting the woods, while others speculated about motives and suspects. Yet, the truth remained elusive, and justice for Emily seemed forever out of reach.

Steven Hirsch, “Mary Brown,” 2024, acrylic on canvas, 17 x 22 inches (43.18 x 55.88 centimeters). Photo of artwork courtesy of the artist


In the bustling streets of South Chicago, Mary Brown’s life took an unexpected turn on a seemingly ordinary day in 2011. As a dedicated employee in the lumber department at Walmart, Mary was known for her punctuality and strong work ethic. So, when she called her boss to inform him of her absence due to a sudden cold, it raised concern among her coworkers.

The police arrived at Mary’s apartment, a modest yet cozy abode where she had built her life. The sight that greeted them sent shivers down their spines — the door was securely locked, the windows unbroken, and the apartment eerily undisturbed. Mary’s keys were nowhere to be found, leaving behind a chilling mystery that defied explanation.

The missing person Mary Brown’s eyes from Steven Hirsch’s painting “Mary Brown,” 2024. Photo of artwork courtesy of the artist

Questions swirled through the minds of investigators as they combed through Mary’s life, searching for any clue, any shred of evidence that could shed light on her disappearance. But each lead turned cold, each avenue of inquiry leading to a dead end.

Rumors whispered through the community, painting a picture of a woman haunted by her past, her secrets buried beneath the surface of her seemingly ordinary life. Yet, amidst the speculation and uncertainty, one truth remained — Mary Brown, with her infectious laughter and warm smile, was gone without a trace.

Years passed, but the mystery of Mary’s disappearance endured, etched into the fabric of South Chicago’s history as a chilling reminder of the fragility of life and the mysteries that lie hidden within the shadows. And as time marched on, Mary’s absence lingered, a haunting presence that refused to fade away, leaving behind  a void that could never be filled.

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