Without any official statement yet, Sony has removed the image “PSEUDOMNESIA | THE ELECTRICIAN” from the opening exhibit of the Sony World Photography Awards 2023, as the author revealed it was made with AI.
Recently an image created by AI – from the Absolutely Ai studio – won a small photo competition held by a photography business in Australia, but this is different: the image from Boris Eldagsen was selected by the jury of the Sony World Photography Awards 2023 in the Open Competition / Creative Category, and it was only during the open ceremony of the exhibition at Somerset House in London that the author, in a surprising speech, refused the prize, saying this:
“Thank you for selecting my image and making this a historic moment, as it is the first AI generated image to win in a prestigious international PHOTOGRAPHY competition.
How many of you knew or suspected that it was AI generated? 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. Therefore I will not accept the award.
I applied as a cheeky monkey, to find out, if the competitions are prepared for AI images to enter. They are not.
We, the photo world, need an open discussion. 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.
Having been a photographer for 30 years before I turned to AI, I understand the pros and cons of this debate and will be happy to join the conversation.
Sony’s actions after the revelation were swift: according to Boris Eldagsen, “my image and name have now been taken off the SWPA webpage” and the image is no longer on display at the London exhibit. The photographer also notes this: “No official statement yet. No attempt to get in contact with me. Neither personally at the award ceremony, nor via email or phone.”
Judges must ask for RAW files of ALL photos…
AI has introduced a new problem for photo competition judges. In recent years, with the development of editing tools that allow to change photographs beyond what was imaginable decades ago, photo competitions have introduced the need for participants to show the RAW file for winning photographs, but no competition is prepared for the challenges AI creates. This example, which happens at a competition that is now almost two decades old and is regarded as the most important of its kind, confirms that a discussion about what is photography and what is AI must happen, as Boris Eldagsen says in his statement.
One thing is clear: even if the image is gone from Sony’s webpage and the exhibit at Somerset House in London, the “PSEUDOMNESIA | THE ELECTRICIAN” image did win a prize, meaning it was selected buy the judges. As a photo or as an AI work?
What’s somehow puzzling in the whole story is that, as Boris Eldagsen notes on his website, he had written this to Sony, after the prize being announced, last March:
I have been photographing since 1989, been a photomedia artist since 2000. After two decades of photography, my artistic focus has shifted to exploring the creative possibilities of AI generators.
The work SWPA has chosen is 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. 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 more you create such a workflow and define parameters, the higher your creative part becomes.
I have been the first in Germany to teach this as a craft in open online workshops: www.promptwhispering.ai
I call my images “images”. They are synthetically produced, using “the photographic” as a visual language. They are not “photographs”.
Participating in open calls, I want to speed up the process of the Award organizers to become aware of this difference and create separate competitions for AI-generated images.
Doing public talks and being a consultant for universities, magazines, agencies, festivals, museums, and organisations, I see my role as a practitioner of knowledge transfer. As the ‘Head of Digital’ of Deutsche Fotografische Akademie, I am a member of the AI work group of Deutscher Fotorat, in which the German photo associations discuss the chances and risks of this disruptive technology at large.
I am very happy that I won the creative category of Sony World Photography Awards 2023 / Open Competition / Single Image.”
The Pandora box is now open
So, Boris Eldagsen did warn the Sony World Photography Awards that his image was not a conventional photograph, but, adding this footnote to what he wrote above: “my statement when the selection of my image was announced by SWPA (without them communicating it was AI-generated or properly answering press inquiries).” The interview the author gave to Talking Pictures early April explains the whole story in detail until the new developments.
It was only after his impromptu announcement at the Sony World Photography Awards 2023 dinner and reception for the winners, where he refused the prize, that his image was taken down from both the exhibition and the website. The Pandora box, though, is now open…
Filmmakers go-to destination for pre-production, production & post production equipment!Shop Now