Photographer Boris Eldagsen refuses prize from Sony World Photography Awards after revealing his image was created using AI
A photographer has refused a major industry award after revealing that his image was generated by artificial intelligence (AI) tools.
“AI is not photography. Therefore I will not accept the award,” said German artist Boris Eldagsen in a statement that he read on stage at the Sony World Photography Awards ceremony in London.
His entry, Pseudomnesia: The Electrician won in the prize’s creative open category.
Eldagsen said he had submitted his entry as a “cheeky monkey” to find out if “competitions are prepared for AI images to enter. They are not.”
“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,” he said.
He said in a blog post that The Electrician was the result of a “complex interplay of prompt engineering, inpainting and outpainting that draws on my wealth of photographic knowledge”.
“For me, working with AI image generators is a co-creation, in which I am the director,” he said.
But he emphasised that such images are “synthetically produced, using ‘the photographic’ as a visual language” and “are not ‘photographs’.
Eldagsen said he wants the award organisers to create a separate category for AI-produced images.
The World Photography Organisation said that during its discussions with Eldagsen he confirmed the image was an AI “co-creation”.
“The creative category of the open competition welcomes various experimental approaches to image making from cyanotypes and rayographs to cutting-edge digital practices,” the group said.
“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.”
‘Excellence and skill’
Since Eldagsen declined the award the the organisation said it had suspended its activities with him and “in keeping with his wishes have removed him from the competition”.
The organisation said it recognised “the importance of this subject [AI] and its impact on image-making today” but 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”.
So-called generative AI has raised questions since the public release of text-based ChatGPT last autumn.
As with chatbots, the field is rife with unanswered questions, including those around copyright – since such tools are trained on vast amounts of publicly available materials.
Winners and shortlisted images from this year’s Sony World Photography Awards are on display at Somerset House, London from 14 April to 1 May 2023.