Photography Contest Winner Reveals Photo Was AI-Generated, Rejects Prize

Photography Contest Winner Reveals Photo Was AI-Generated, Rejects Prize

A winner in an international photography competition has recognized his award after revealing that his artwork was generated with the help of artificial intelligence.

German artist Boris Eldagsen said he submitted his image to this year’s Sony World Photography Awards in a bid to test whether such competitions are prepared for the entrance of realistic, AI-generated submissions. His announced win last month in the creative category led him to conclude that 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 in a statement last week that was shared on his website.

Eldagsen said he did not initially disclose that his artwork was AI-generated when in December he submitted his piece, titled “Pseudomnesia: The Electrician.” The contest said the submissions could be made using “any device,” he said.

Boris Eldagsen's AI-generated image that won first place in the creative category in this year's Sony World Photography Awards.

Boris Eldagsen’s AI-generated image that won first place in the creative category in this year’s Sony World Photography Awards.

Boris Eldagsen’s AI-generated image that won first place in the creative category in this year’s Sony World Photography Awards.

It was only after his black-and-white image depicting two women was named victor in the creative category that Eldagesn said he revealed to the contest’s organizers that he had received some extra help.

In a message that he said he sent to Creo, which organized the contest with its World Photography Organization, he said that he didn’t want any misunderstandings and that after two decades in photography “my artistic focus has shifted more and more to exploring creative possibilities of AI generators.”

In a later follow-up email, he said he wanted to make it clear that his art “was produced as an experiment with AI generators, knowing that there would be [an] outcry among the photographers community.”

The contest’s organizers stood by awarding him first place in the creative category, however, stating that it “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 feel that his entry met the criteria for this category, and we were supportive of his participation,” Creo’s World Photography Organization said in a statement shared with HuffPost Tuesday.

Eldagsen was still stripped of the award and any recognition on Creo’s website, however, with the organization reasoning that he rejected the accolade and he was admitted to trying to fool the judges.

“Given his actions and subsequent statements 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 organization said.

A new winner will not be named in the creative category, a spokesperson said.

Eldagsen, who did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment, said he hopes that his refusal of the award spurs more discussions on AI images in art.

“We, the photo world, need an open discussion,” he said in an online statement. “A discussion about what we want to consider photography and what not. Is the umbrella of photography large enough to invite AI images to enter – or would this be a mistake? With my refusal of the award I hope to speed up this debate.”

This wasn’t the first art contest to be controversially won by AI.

Last year, the Colorado State Fair awarded an AI-generated image of a blue ribbon in the fair’s contest for emerging digital artists, sparking some outcry over the award entry’s legitimacy.

The contest’s judges told local news outlet The Pueblo Chieftain that they were unaware that the artwork had been created using AI, but even if they had known, it would have still been awarded first place. A spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Agriculture told the Chieftain that there may be future policy changes.

Creating AI-generated artwork is as simple as entering a series of words into AI art-generating software. One free online program is called Dream. These programs then turn out custom images based on those words.

In Eldagsen’s work, he said his images were “co-produced” using AI image generators. His series of work titled “Pseudomnesia,” which he notes is a Latin term for fake memory, was “imagined by language and re-edited more between 20 to 40 times through AI image generators,” he posted on his website.

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