artificial intelligence

AI-made image wins at Sony World Photography Awards, creator refuses award

Gelo Gonzales

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

AI-made image wins at Sony World Photography Awards, creator refuses award

Boris Eldagsen, and his winning image, Pseudomnesia: The Electrician. Photo by Alex Schwander (instagram.com/alexschwander)

Alex Schwander

'AI is not photography. Therefore I will not accept the award. I applied as a cheeky monkey, to find out, if the (competitions) are prepared for AI images to enter. They are not,' says German artist Boris Eldagsen

MANILA, Philippines – German artist Boris Eldagsen won the creative competition of the open segment, one among many categories, at the 2023 Sony World Photography Awards (SWPA), with the announcement of the segment’s winners published on March 14, 2023. 

On April 13, 2023, the overall winners for the contest would be announced, and a gala was held in London, UK on April 13. 

While the contest naturally shone the spotlight on some of the world’s best photographers, Eldagsen’s winning piece “Pseudomnesia: The Electrician” has grabbed headlines, as news spreads of his work having been made, intentionally, using an AI image generator.

The news is similar to an image made through AI image generator Midjourney winning the Colorado State Fair’s annual art competition in 2023. 

Amid the coverage that various European news outlets have given the contest’s gala and the subsequent opening of the winner exhibits, Eldagsen’s blog posts have surfaced chronicling his victory, along with his subsequent refusal of the award, and what has become a testy relationship between the artist and the contest organizers.

Plea from the artist to communicate his use of AI

Eldagsen wrote on March 14, the day the winners were publicly announced, that he has been a photographer since 1989, whose “artistic focus has shifted to exploring the creative possibilities of AI generators.” 

“The work SWPA has chosen is the result of a complex interplay of prompt engineering, inpainting and outpainting that draws on my wealth of photographic knowledge,” he wrote. 

Participating in the contest, he said one of his goals is for award organizers to be aware of the differences between photographs and images (under which he categorized his winning work), and “create separate competitions for AI-generated images.” 

Among his concerns were that it wasn’t communicated in the press release that his work had been co-created using AI. 

Much earlier on March 3, a day after SWPA initially informed Eldagsen of winning, the artist wrote that he had communicated to the organizers then that he used an image generator to produce the image.

In his message to SWPA, he wrote that he told them, “Since I don’t want there to be any misunderstandings here, it is important for me to explain in this email the background of the image you have chosen in as much detail as possible…In Germany, I am active as [an] AI expert in the “Deutscher Fotorat” (German Photo Council) to discuss the chances and risks of AI image generators. Perhaps Sony would be interested in taking up the topic for a panel discussion in this context.”

The SWPA’s response to press queries

Responding at the time to press queries regarding Eldagsen’s AI image, Scott Gray, founder and CEO of the World Photography Organization was quoted in an official press statement from the organization: “As a medium, photography has always been at the forefront: constantly adapting and evolving, it has a singular ability to transform itself and push boundaries. 

“We are interested in photography as an art form, and within the Sony World Photography Awards we have our Creative categories in the Professional and Open Competitions which welcome photographers to experiment and explore the dynamism of the medium. 

“With technological advancements, a wider audience of creators are engaging with lens-based work and we look forward to seeing how this can expand the reach and impact of photography.” 

Eldagsen expressed disappointment that the organization didn’t include his own statement, stating concerns that there would be an outcry from the photography community. 

There would be several back and forth between Eldagsen and the SWPA regarding setting up a panel discussion about his use of AI image generators, but nothing materialized – likely eventually leading to his refusal to accept the award. 

Eldagsen’s refusal

Eldagsen appears to have attended the April 13 award ceremony in London, but further expressing his disappointment about not being granted a discussion about his image, he wrote, “Why didn’t they talk to me at the ceremony after I went on stage? I stayed until the end and 30 minutes longer.”

Eldagsen posted his statement refusing the award, but it is unclear if he also said these words at the actual event. Here’s his statement, with typographical errors edited for clarity:

“Thank you for selecting my image and making this a historic moment, as it is the first AI generated image to win in a [prestigious] international [photography] competition. How many of you knew or suspected that it was AI generated? Something about this doesn’t feel right, does it? AI images and photography should not compete with each other in an award like this. They are different entities. 

AI is not photography. Therefore I will not accept the award. I applied as a cheeky monkey, to find out, if the [competitions] are prepared for AI images to enter. They are not. We, the photo world, need an open discussion. A discussion about what we want to consider photography and what not. Is the umbrella of photography large enough to invite AI images to enter – or would this be a mistake? With my refusal of the award I hope to speed up this debate.

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He also asked for the prize to be donated to a photo contest in Ukraine.

On Eldagsen’s work, the BBC, quoted a spokesperson from the organization behind SWPA, Creo: “The creative category of the open competition welcomes various experimental approaches to image making from cyanotypes and rayographs to cutting-edge digital practices…As such, following our correspondence with Boris and the warranties he provided, we felt that his entry fulfilled the criteria for this category, and we were supportive of his participation.” 

The organization has removed Eldagsen from the competition, and “Pseudomnesia: The Electrician” is no longer available online, among the other winning pieces. Eldagsen also said it has been removed from the physical exhibition. – Rappler.com

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Gelo Gonzales

Gelo Gonzales is Rappler’s technology editor. He covers consumer electronics, social media, emerging tech, and video games.