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Photography award winner admits image was AI-generated

April 18, 2023

A German photographer has won first prize at an international competition with an entry generated by AI. He refused the award, provoking debate on the role of AI in image-making.

Portrait photo of photographer Boris Eldagsen
The artist, Boris Eldagsen, pointed out that photography and AI-generated content are two different entitiesImage: picture alliance/dpa/Boris Eldagsen

Berlin-based photographer Boris Eldagsen rejected the recognition from Sony World Photography Awards, saying that artificial intelligence (AI) images and photography should not compete with each other in similar contests.

In a statement published on his website, Erdagsen said that he applied to the competition "as a cheeky monkey" to find out if such events are prepared to handle AI-generated content.

The photographer also urged for debate on the role of AI in photography.

"We, the photo world, need an open discussion. A discussion about what we want to consider photography and what not," wrote Eldagsen.

What does the AI-generated photo show?

Organizers of the award announced Eldagsen's work, titled "Pseudomnesia: The Electrician", as the winner of its creative category last month.

The sepia-colored image shows two women of different generations, one standing behind the other.

Screenshot of the website of Boris Eldagsen
Eldagsen had previously submitted photographs to the Sony World Photography Awards without being able to winImage: eldagsen.com

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

The artist pointed out that photography shouldn't be confused with AI-generated content. "They are different entities. AI is not photography."

How did the award organizers respond?

In an initial response, the awarding body accused Eldagsen of "deliberate attempts at misleading" them.

"As he 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," the organization said according to a statement provided to DW.

"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," the statement added.

They also said they were "looking forward to engaging in a more in-depth discussion" with the artist. 

Eldagsen wrote that it was "nonsense" to suggest that the organizers were willing to start a conversation with him.

According to the artist, the awarding body refused to answer questions from him and from journalists.

"They had so many options to use this for good. They used none of them," said Eldagsen.

Later on Tuesday, the organizers removed the accusation of being misled in an edited statement sent to news agency AFP.

The AI image debate

Recently, AI has been making headlines with its ability to generate various content, from detailed travel itineraries to academic essays and code in various programming languages.

AI-generated images have recently flooded the internet, sparking a conversation around AI and disinformation. 

Last month, artificially created images showing the arrest of former US President Donald Trump caused controversy online.

With new language models like DALL-E 2, users are able to create detailed and realistic images from text input in a matter of seconds. 

DW has written a handy checklist on how to spot AI-generated images.

vh/jcg (AFP, dpa)

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