German artist Boris Eldagsen turned down a Sony World Photography 2023 award after revealing the “photography” was in fact an AI-generated image. Eldagsen said he used the picture to test the competition and to create debate about the future of photography.
This also comes as AI is increasingly becoming more sophisticated and regulations struggle to keep up. As such, global concern has risen about its place in the creative industry with people questioning the ethics of AI art and what it means for those working or pursuing a creative career, especially digital painting.
Eldagsen’s entry, entitled Pseudomnesia: The Electrician, won the creative open category at the prestigious awards last week. The awards organisers told BBC News that Eldagsen had misled them about the extent of AI that would be involved.
His images are part of a larger series called PSEUDOMNESIA: False Memories, which aims to create a photographic style reminiscent of the 1940s. However, in reality, these images are “fake memories of a past that never existed, that no one photographed.”
“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,” said Eldagsen in a statement.
“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,” he added.
The image in question showed a haunting black-and-white portrait of two women from different generations. AI enthusiast Javi Lopez was dismayed the image made it despite showing traits of an AI created image.
“I am shocked and surprised that the Sony World Photography Awards didn’t spot this.”
Boris Eldagsen’s intentions
Eldagsen indicated that while his work is inspired by photography, its presentation was meant to emphasize that it is not a traditional photograph. Having been a photographer for 30 years before turning to AI, Eldagsen said he understood the pros and cons, the debate around AI in the industry and was ready to stir the conversations.
“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,” said Eldagsen.
“I applied as a cheeky monkey, to find out, if the competitions are prepared for AI images to enter.”
Unlike natural images taken by a camera, Eldagsen explained AI images were imagined by language and re-edited between 20 to 40 times through AI image generators, combining ‘inpainting,’ ‘outpainting,’ and ‘prompt whispering’ techniques.
After refusing the prize, the image was taken off the show and the competition website.
According to the BBC News report, a spokesperson for the World Photography Organisation said that during their discussion with the artist, before he was announced as the winner, he had confirmed the piece was a “co-creation” of his image using AI.
“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 his entry fulfilled the criteria for this category, and we were supportive of his participation.”
However, some critics feel the move was intentional, to stir debate.
“SHOCKED- it is clearly an AI generated image. I am more inclined to believe they knew and prob wanted to stir a debate,” tweeted Viv Mocellin.
Ethics around AI art
It seems Eldagsen achieved his goal as the incident has reportedly already fuelled debate about how to deal with AI-generated art as it increasingly infiltrates the cultural landscape.
According to CG Spectrum, AI is any form of digital artwork, such as images, text, audio, or video created with the assistance of AI. Within the creative industries and beyond, the ethical questions surrounding AI are stacking up alongside technology’s rapid and unchecked incline, and have begun asking how AI will impact artists.
In September last year, DALL-E 2 became universally available. With its release, debate about the merits of AI art came to the fore.
Specifically, artists and graphic designers began to consider how technology can facilitate their profession.
Others in the visual arts scene worry that programmes might put them out of work in the same way that automated machinery shrunk the manufacturing workforce. This is also in addition to a worrisome trend where there is a rise in non skilled artists and writers taking on the industry using AI tools.
The use of AI in the arts and entertainment industry has been growing even in music and videos with AI generated voices being used.