Boris Eldagsen, a German artist based in Berlin, had refused the accolade he was given from a renowned international photography contest when it was brought to light that his submission was created with help from Artificial Intelligence. His piece “Pseudomnesia: The Electrician” won him the creative, open category at this year’s Sony World Photography Award.
An eerie black and white photograph portrays two women from different eras, the elder one seemingly holding onto the younger woman from behind.
The coordinators stated that they had been informed of certain Artificial Intelligence involvement but also said there had been “intentional” attempts to misinform them.
Eldagsen expressed his desire for a discourse on AI-generated images by acting playfully. Through his website, he declared that he hoped this would establish “separate competitions” for these images.
“Thank you for selecting my image and making this a historic moment, as it is the first AI generated image to win in a prestigous (sic) 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 eachother in an award like this. They are different entities. AI is not photography. Therefore I will not accept the award.”
He disclosed that he had applied ‘as a joke’ to test if contests were equipped for Artificial Intelligence generated pictures. Unfortunately, they weren’t prepared for it.
Not About Winning
Eldagsen continues to say:
“It shows that at the moment the photographic world has been taken by surprise after this development that subtly you can create images that look like photography but you don’t need to have the skills and expertise of photographers.”
Eldagsen stated that introducing AI into photography had caused fear and anxiety amongst many photographers, believing it could lead to job loss. He clarified, however, that his intention was not to cause distress but rather to initiate a critical dialogue about the matter.
Eldagsen went on to say:
“It was not about winning anything,”
“I was just making a test to see if they were aware — like a hacker who hacks a system not to exploit it, but to see if there are weaknesses.”
Further postings on his website revealed that he had informed the organizers of AI’s involvement. The organizers reported that 2023 registered the largest number of entries since the awards began 16 years ago, with 415,000 images submitted and 180,000 applying to the professional categories.
Three finalists and five and seven shortlisted photographers were picked in each category. Photographs taken by photographers from over 30 nations, shot in places varying from a disused cement plant in China to a fish market in Somalia, were chosen.
Identifying & Avoiding Misleading Claims
The World Photography Organisation, which runs the competition, declared on Tuesday to CNN that before proclaiming Eldagsen a category winner on March 14th, there had been conversations between them and Eldagsen where he admitted to the collaboration of Artificial Intelligence for this particular image.
World Photography organizers say:
“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. 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.
“As he [Eldagsen] has now decided to decline his award we have suspended our activities with him and in keeping with his wishes have removed him from the competition. Given his actions and subsequent statement noting his deliberate attempts at misleading us, and therefore invalidating the warranties he provided, we no longer feel we are able to engage in a meaningful and constructive dialogue with him.”
The statement said organizers recognize “the importance of this subject and its impact on image-making today.”
“While elements of AI practices are relevant in artistic contexts of image-making, the awards always have been and will continue to be a platform for championing the excellence and skill of photographers and artists working in the medium,”
As technology continues to evolve and shape our world, we must remain mindful of its impact on our cultural practices and values. Ultimately, the decision to use AI in the art should be conscious and intentional, grounded in a deep understanding of the creative process and the unique contributions of human artists.