German artist Boris Eldagsen was announced the winner of the Creative Category in the Open competition at the Sony World Photography Award 2023 ceremony in London last week, but later withdrew his acceptance of the prize, revealing that his image was AI-generated. He has said on his website eldagsen.com that he entered the photograph to the competition as a test and to create discussion about the future of photography.
This comes as AI becomes more and more visible, with Adobe launching its own AI image-generator and ‘fake’ moon photos taken with a Samsung S23 Ultra sparking a reckoning over whether AI in photography really has gone too far. All of this not even a month ago.
‘How many of you knew or suspected that it was AI-generated?,’ said the Berlin-based photographer on his website. ‘Something about this doesn’t feel right, does it? AI images and photography should not compete with each other in an award like this. They are different entities. AI is not photography.’
Eldagsen goes on to explain why he did not accept the award, saying that he applied as a ‘cheeky monkey’ to find out if competitions are ready for AI images to enter. In his website, he concludes that they are not and that ‘We, the photo world, need an open discussion. A discussion about what we want to consider photography and what not… With my refusal of the award I hope to speed up this debate.’
Organisers of the award told BBC News that Eldagsen had misled them about the extent of AI that would be involved. A spokesperson for the World Photography Organisation has said that Eldagsen had confirmed in discussions before he was announced as the winner that the piece was a ‘co-creation’ of his image using AI, also emphasising that his image ‘heavily relies on his wealth of photographic knowledge’.
Eldagsen has since been removed from the competition and invited to a Q&A for the website. In his website, Eldagsen says that the questions never came and was critical of art events organiser Creo’s response to the controversy, citing a communication problem in their team as well as the photography community with press enquiries and questions from the public going unanswered or being ‘dismissed with a generic quote’.
He’s said that ‘They had so many options to use this for good. They used none of them. Instead they refused to answer my questions, the questions of the press, the questions of concerned photographers. So stop saying “we were looking forward to engaging in a more in-depth discussion on this topic” – it is wrong.’
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