A German photographer turned down the first place in the Sony World Photography Awards from the World Photography Organization because his image was generated entirely by artificial intelligence.
Boris Eldagsen had taken first place in the ‘Creativity’ category, but turned down the prize of $5,000, a Sony camera and a trip to London because he knew all along that he was cheating. What was his goal?
The image of the controversy
Eldagsen sent the image called ‘The Electrician’. The photograph showed the portrait of two women in a kind of antique photographic process.
However, the photo is part of a series entitled. PSEUDOMNESIA: Fake Memories which Eldagsen has been working on since 2022 and which is entirely made by artificial intelligence.
“Using the visual language of the 1940s, Boris Eldagsen produces his images as false memories of a past, that never existed, that no one photographed. These images were imagined by language and re-edited over 20 to 40 times through AI image generators, combining techniques of ‘inner painting’, ‘outer painting’ and ‘fast whispering’,” reads his collection.
The contest judges did not notice this detail and simply awarded him first place in the category.
He made a manifesto
When the winners of the open competition were announced on March 14, Eldagsen used his blog to share his views on winning and AI.
“For me, working with AI imagers is a co-creation, where I am the director. It’s not about pushing a button, and that’s it. It’s about exploring the complexity of this process, starting with refining text prompts, then developing a complex workflow and mixing various platforms and techniques. The more you create such a workflow and define parameters, the more creative you get,” he says.
Eldagsen says he calls his work “images” and not “photographs” as they are “synthetically produced, using ‘the photographic’ as a visual language.”
Eldagsen added a note to his website announcing that he declined the award. In an open letter to the contest organizers, the artist explained that it had all been an experiment and an effort to accelerate the conversation on this topic.
“The images of intelligence artificial 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.”
Eldagsen writes that this whole incident has shown that the art world has been unprepared for the rapid advancement of image-generating technologies from artificial intelligence, which burst onto the scene this year through projects such as Midjourney and DALL-E. The World Photography Organization has yet to make a public statement on Eldagsen’s victory and the resulting controversy.
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