Artist refuses prize for AI creation at Sony World Photo Awards

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A photographer has rejected an award in an international photo competition won with an image created by artificial intelligence (AI).

German artist Boris Eldagsen won the Creative Open category of the 2023 Sony World Photography Awards with an AI image depicting two women from different generations in black and white.

A spokesperson for the World Photography Organisation, which runs the awards, said in a statement to The Guardian the organisation was aware the image was created by AI and that the Creative category is open to a broader range of image-making approaches.

“The creative category of the open competition welcomes various experimental approaches to image making from cyanotypes and rayographs to cutting-edge digital practices," said the World Photography Awards spokesperson.

"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."

In a statement on his website, Eldagsen said he had applied to find out if competitions are prepared for AI images to enter.

"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.

“We, the photo world, need an open discussion,” added Eldagsen. “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?

Eldagsen said in an interview with German media outlet ReVue that he began entering his AI images into photo competitions last year.

"I started applying with my synthetic images last autumn to find out whether festivals and competitions were prepared for them. At that time, AI was nothing new, so it could have been taken into account. I was among the finalists in three competitions with the same image and explained the authorship of the image to the organisers.

"The result was always the same: They felt cheated, but didn't want to talk about it. In the case of the Sony Awards, I was contacted in January and provided the details to my Instagram account and the webpage where the creation was described in detail. If anyone had looked at that, it would have become obvious that the images were AI creations."

Following Eldagsen's rejection of the award, the World Photography Awards removed his name and image from the competition website.

“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," the World Photography Awards spokesperson told The Guardian.

"Given his actions and subsequent statement 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."

“We recognise the importance of this subject and its impact on image-making today. We look forward to further exploring this topic via our various channels and programmes and welcome the conversation around it."

"While elements of AI practices are relevant in artistic contexts of image-making, 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.”

Eldagsen's competition win comes at a time of intense debate around the emerging use of AI in the creative industries.

Earlier this year, a Sydney-based AI company's publicity stunt resulted in an AI-generated image winning a local photography competition run by camera store DigiDirect, sparking outrage and questions about human influence in creativity

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