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Award-winning photograph revealed to be AI-generated image, photographer turns down prize

ByTeam BB

Apr 18, 2023


A German artist who won a major prize for photography has turned down the award after revealing his work was created with help from artificial intelligence (AI).

Photographer Boris Eldagsen won the creative category of the open competition for the Sony World Photography Awards 2023 with his “photograph,” titled “Pseudomnesia: The Electrician.” The image, which depicted an older woman holding a younger in black and white, was “the first AI generated image to win in a prestigious international Photography competition,” Eldagsen said in a statement posted on his website.

“How many of you knew or suspected that it was AI generated? Something about this doesn’t feel right, does it? Eldagsen said. “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,” 

Calling himself a “cheeky monkey,” the artist explained that he submitted an AI-generated image to the competition to instigate a debate over “what we want to consider photography.” 

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In this photo illustration, a Midjourney logo is seen on a smartphone screen. (Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

“Is the umbrella of photography large enough to invite AI images to enter – or would this be a mistake?” Eldagsen asked. “With my refusal of the award I hope to speed up this debate.”

Artificially generated images have flooded the internet as AI technology has grown more popular. With a few simple text prompts, bots like Midjourney or DALL·E 2 can create stunning visuals — although the results are not always quite right. The technology has prompted complex questions about the nature of art, as well as more practical concerns over deepfakes used in pornography or images that can spread misinformation. 

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Eldagsen had expressed interest in “exploring the creative possibilities of AI generators,” according to his own account on his website. The artist criticized the competition organizers for neglecting to disclose that his image had been made using AI before he was announced as a winner. 

A spokesperson for the World Photography Organisation, a subsidiary of the events company Creo, told the BBC that Eldagsen had informed the judges that his entry was a “co-creation” with AI and said that he fulfilled their criteria because the image “relies on his ‘wealth of photographic knowledge.'”  

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Symbolic photo: The website of Midjourney, an artificial intelligence capable of creating AI art, is seen on a smartphone on April 3, 2023, in Berlin.

Symbolic photo: The website of Midjourney, an artificial intelligence capable of creating AI art, is seen on a smartphone on April 3, 2023, in Berlin. (Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images)

“The creative category of the open competition welcomes various experimental approaches to image-making, from cyanotypes and rayographs to cutting-edge digital practices,” the World Photography Organisation said.

“As such, following our correspondence with Boris [Eldagsen] and the warranties he provided, we felt that his entry fulfilled the criteria for this category, and we were supportive of his participation.

The World Photography Organisations said that AI art falls under "cutting-edge digital practices."

The World Photography Organisations said that AI art falls under “cutting-edge digital practices.” (iStock)

“Additionally, we were looking forward to engaging in a more in-depth discussion on this topic and welcomed Boris’ wish for dialogue by preparing questions for a dedicated Q&A with him for our website.”

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The spokesperson said that since Eldagsen has declined the award, they have removed him from the competition “in keeping with his wishes.” 



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