An artist declined an award at a prominent photography contest because he had submitted an AI-generated work, proving, he said, the competition couldn’t deal with art made by that means. The contest’s organizers, in turn, said they didn’t know the extent to which the work utilized AI.
Boris Eldagsen won the World Photography Organization’s Sony World Photography Awards for a piece titled The Electrician. The work appears like an old photograph showing two women, one of whom crouches behind the other. Another person’s hand extends toward the front woman’s body.
Part of a series called “Pseudomnesia,” the work was made by submitting language to an AI generator many times over. In the process, the work was altered using techniques known as inpainting, outpainting, and prompt whispering.
“Just as photography replaced painting in the reproduction of reality, AI will replace photography,” Eldagsen wrote in a description. “Don’t be afraid of the future. It will just be more obvious that our mind always created the world that makes it suffer.”
Initially, when the work was selected for competition in March, Eldagsen wrote on his website that he was “happy” his “image,” as he called it, had made the cut. Then, when he won last week, he sounded a different note.
“AI images and photography should not compete with each other in an award like this,” he wrote in a statement on April 13. “They are different entities. AI is not photography. Therefore I will not accept the award.”
He continued, “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?”
Eldagsen, who had won in the creative category, urged the jury to give his prize money to a photography festival in Odesa, Ukraine, instead.
The World Photography Organization frowned upon Eldagsen’s work and his response to winning.
In a statement, the organization said, “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. 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.”
The statement continued, “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.”
The controversy loosely recalls another one that took place last August, when an AI-generated artwork won an art competition at the Colorado State Fair. That work had been produced using Midjourney, spurring a mixture of anger and fascination within the art world and beyond.