After admitting that AI was used to create some of his work, the winner of a significant photography competition declined the prize.

Pseudomnesia: The Electrician, a piece by German artist Boris Eldagsen, took first place in the creative open division of the Sony World Photography Awards last week.

He claimed that he took the image to evaluate the contest and to spark a conversation about the future of photography.

Eldagsen deceived the award’s organizers about the scope of the AI use, they said BBC News.

Eldagsen acknowledged being a “cheeky monkey” in a statement posted to his website. He thanked the judges for “selecting my image and making this a historic moment,” but he also questioned whether any of them “knew or suspected that it was AI-generated.”

He went on to say that “AI images and photography should not compete with each other in an award like this.”

They are distinct people. Not photography, but AI. I hereby decline to accept the prize.

The picture in question featured an eerie black-and-white depiction of two women who belonged to various generations.

However, Eldagsen noted that “something about this doesn’t feel right, does it?” in his comments. Of course, that something is the fact that it is a synthetically created image rather than a real photograph.

In recent months, there has been much discussion on the use of AI to everything from song and essay writing to driverless automobiles, chatbox therapists, and the advancement of medicine. Its suitability and usefulness for photography, particularly deepfakes, has now come into focus.

Before being named the winner, the artist revealed the piece was a “co-creation” of his image using AI, according to a representative for the World Photography Organisation, the photography division of event organizers Creo.

He said that while “emphasizing the image heavily relies on his wealth of photographic knowledge,” he was interested in “the creative possibilities of AI generators.”

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

Since his entry met the requirements for this category after our correspondence with Boris [Eldagsen] and the warranties he offered, we were in favor of his participation.

Additionally, we were excited to have a deeper conversation about this subject and welcomed Boris’ desire for discourse by preparing questions for a special Q&A with him on our website.

“We have suspended our activities with him and, in keeping with his wishes, have removed him from the competition,” they said. “He has now decided to decline his award.”

However, they emphasized that 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.” They acknowledged “the importance of this subject [AI] and its impact on image-making today.”

A discussion has been raging ever since an AI-generated image won a US state art competition in September.

While this is going on, technology seems to get stronger every week.

Photographers and painters who once could console themselves by pointing out how poorly AI generates images—for instance, how it struggles with hands—now discover that these problems are getting harder and harder to detect.

Tim Flach, head of the Association of Photographers, told me last month that he was shocked at how simple it was to create an AI image of a tiger that looked remarkably similar to a picture he had to enter the cage to take.

A student who was talking to me about photography at the time was concerned about whether his desired career will still be there in a few years.

Numerous photographers and artists have even filed lawsuits accusing AI systems of unfairly profiting off the creations of the millions of human creators on which the systems are trained.

Others, though, simply see AI as another instrument, perhaps a new kind of art, but one that is no less valuable.

They remind out that photography itself was once a novel and, to some, dangerous device.

But there are also a lot of very fundamental questions that aren’t apparent, including who owns the copyright to an AI image.

In addition to producing images, AI has raised a number of legal and ethical issues that have not yet been resolved.

Eldagsen claimed to have made it plain to the organizers of the event that he, too, wished to publicly participate in a “open discussion” about the issue far earlier in the award-giving process, but that this had been to no use. He made the claim to the BBC on Monday.

He also suggested giving the cash award to an Odesa, Ukraine-based photography competition.

Feroz Khan, a photographer and blogger, was particularly interested in how the last week’s events played out. And he added that he did not hold the artist accountable for demonstrating that “the photography industry has a problem.”

The majority of individuals find it difficult to tell the difference between photographs and AI-generated images, at least at first glance, he stated. “In a few months, it’ll probably get much tougher to spot crucial distinctions without close examination.

“Boris has mentioned that he wants photography contest organizers to offer distinct categories for AI photos with this goal in mind.

“I admire his desire for this distinction in photo competitions. Yes, he submitted an AI image for the contest, but it doesn’t appear that he intended to deceive anyone. He wanted to draw attention to a problem that demands everyone’s full attention.

Eldagsen, he said, had “clearly shown that even experienced photographers and art experts can be fooled.”

The photos from this year’s Sony World Photography Awards that were selected as winners and finalists are currently on display at Somerset House in London through May 1, 2023.


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