Sony World Photography Award 2023: Winner refuses award after revealing AI creation

The winner of a major photography award has refused his prize after revealing his work was in fact an AI creation.

German artist Boris Eldagsen’s entry, entitled Pseudomnesia: The Electrician, won the creative open category at last week’s Sony World Photography Award.

He said he used the picture to test the competition and to create a discussion about the future of photography.

Organisers of the award said that Eldagsen had mis-led them about the extent of AI that would be involved.

In a statement shared on his website, Eldagsen admitted he had been a “cheeky monkey”, thanking the judges for “selecting my image and making this a historic moment”, while questioning if any of them “knew or suspected that it was AI-generated”.

“AI images and photography should not compete with each other in an award like this,” he continued.

“They are different entities. AI is not photography. Therefore I will not accept the award.”

The image in question showed a haunting black-and-white portrait of two women from different generations.

But as Eldagsen pointed out in his statement: “Something about this doesn’t feel right, does it?” That something, of course, being the fact that it’s not a real photograph at all – but a synthetically-produced image.

The use of AI in everything from song and essay writing, to driverless cars, chatbox therapists and the development of medicine has been widely debated in recent months; now its appropriateness and utility regarding photography – especially deepfakes – has come into focus.

Boris Eldagsen said he used the image to create an "open discussion"IMAGE SOURCE,BORIS ELDAGSEN
Image caption,

Boris Eldagsen said he used the image as he wanted to create an “open discussion”

A spokesperson for the World Photography Organisation, the photography strand of art events organisers Creo, said that during their discussions with the artist, before he was announced as the winner, he had confirmed the piece was a “co-creation” of his image using AI.

He noted his interest in “the creative possibilities of AI generators”, they added, while “emphasising the image heavily relies on his wealth of photographic knowledge.

“The creative category of the open competition welcomes various experimental approaches to image making from cyanotypes and rayographs to cutting-edge digital practices,” they said.

“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.

“Additionally, we were looking forward to engaging in a more in-depth discussion on this topic and welcomed Boris’ wish for dialogue by preparing questions for a dedicated Q&A with him for our website.”

They continued: “As he has now decided to decline his award we have suspended our activities with him and in keeping with his wishes have removed him from the competition.”

They said they recognised “the importance of this subject [AI] and its impact on image-making today” but stressed the awards “always have been and will continue to be a platform for championing the excellence and skill of photographers and artists working in the medium.”

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