Artist Wins Photography Award With AI-Generated Image, But Refuses To Accept Award

A German artist and photographer, Boris Eldagsen, won first prize in a photography competition. But Eldagsen did not claim the prize because his image “The Electrician” wasn’t a real photo and was generated by AI.

The image submitted by Eldagsen came out on top in the creative category in the open competition at the World Photography Organization’s Sony World Photography Awards in 2023.

“AI is not photography,” Eldagsen, who has been a photographer for around three decades, wrote on his website. “Therefore I will not accept the award.”

The black-and-white photograph showed a woman in the foreground is being assisted with her dress by other hands, while another woman stands behind her with a hand on her shoulder. Both women avoid direct eye contact.

The realistic image is a 1940s-style image, but upon close inspection, it does reveal that it might be AI-generated. The positioning of some fingers, the appearance of certain fingernails, and one woman’s pupil shape are among the hints that it was AI-generated.

“It has all the flaws of AI, and it could have been spotted but it wasn’t,” Eldagsen told Insider, adding that he was surprised the image won. After hearing of his success in early March, he immediately told the competition’s organizers that the image was AI-generated, he said.

DALL-E, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion and have gained popularity for generating images in any style or in any event. These platforms create deepfake images that usually go very viral such as former President Donald Trump’s arrest.

The platforms also permit users to modify existing images in September, using DALL-E 2, Eldagsen used “promptography” to create the photograph to spark a conversation about AI and photography.

“For me, working with AI image generators is a co-creation, in which I am the director,” he wrote on his website. “It is not about pressing a button – and done it is. It is about exploring the complexity of this process, starting with refining text prompts, then developing a complex workflow, and mixing various platforms and techniques.”

“The Electrician” has since been removed from the Sony World Photography Awards 2023 and no longer features on the World Photography Organisation’s website or at the physical exhibition in London.

Later, a spokesperson for CREO, the company behind the awards, told Insider that the category “The Electrician” won “welcomes various experimental approaches.”

“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,” the spokesperson continued, adding that the image was removed after Eldagsen declined the award.

Eldagsen recommends that competition organizers establish separate categories for AI-generated art, which is becoming increasingly realistic.

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