Sony Award winner refuses prize to make a point about AI-generated images

Apr 18, 2023

Alex Baker

Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe

Sony Award winner refuses prize to make a point about AI-generated images

Apr 18, 2023

Alex Baker

Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe

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Sony Award winner refuses prize to make a point about AI images

A photographer that won a top prize in the Sony World Photography Awards (SWPA) has refused to receive the award for his AI-generated image titled PSEUDOMNESIA | The Electrician.

Veteran photographer and artist Boris Eldagsen entered an AI-generated image into the Creative category of the competition. Eldagsen has been experimenting with AI images after enjoying a 20-plus year-long photography career and says that he was exploring the possibilities of AI.

The winning image has provoked (more) controversy on the subject of AI imagery versus traditional photography, particularly in regard to entering competitions. Since being announced as the winner, Eldagsen has declined the $5,000 prize and has admitted to being a “cheeky monkey” for entering an AI-generated image.

Whilst there has been some confusion on the reporting of this subject, a statement on Eldagsen’s website clearly shows the timeline of events and his correspondence with the SWPA.

Eldagsen entered the image in the competition in December of 2022, making sure that he was well within the rules of the Creative category. “I applied with no additional info about the way of production, as SWPA allowed to use ‘any device,’” says Boris.  Indeed, perhaps saying that a text-to-image generator is stretching that a little is another matter entirely. But taking the rule literally, it holds up.

Sony Award winner refuses prize to make a point about AI images

Until March 2023, when Boris received notification of winning, the competition had no idea that the image was AI-generated. As Boris says, the title should perhaps have been a giveaway, as it translates as ‘False Memory’. At this point, Boris told the competition that he was very active in exploring AI image generation and its impacts on the artistic world and that “perhaps Sony would be interested in taking up the topic for a panel discussion in this context.”

The competition replied simply that Boris could keep the award. Afterwards, Boris was apparently inundated with press enquiries wanting to know if the image was AI or not and insinuating that some sort of nefarious activity was at work. Boris claims that at no point did he aim to conceal the fact that the image was AI.

Boris tried to engage the competition in an open discussion about the subject a number of times, to no avail. In the end, he journeyed to London to accept the award at a ceremony, only to then announce his refusal and suggest that the prize money be sent to a Ukraine Photo Festival instead.

I applied as a cheeky monkey, to find out, if the comeptitions 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.

– Boris Eldagsen

It’s certainly an interesting turn of events, with a twist that such a prestigious competition appears not to have seen coming. The silence and absence of discussion on the subject suggest that the photographic community is floundering in response to this new art form.

The publicity stunt has paid off, however, if Eldagsen’s main goal was to promote conversation around the subject. I believe we haven’t seen the end of AI images winning photographic prizes. This is merely the beginning. What are your thoughts on the matter?

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Alex Baker

Alex Baker

Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe

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19 responses to “Sony Award winner refuses prize to make a point about AI-generated images”

  1. Eric Madec Avatar
    Eric Madec

    this is ridiculous, it’s so obvious this one is not real, may be the jury of this Award was an iA???

    1. Mika Mäkinen Avatar
      Mika Mäkinen

      Eric Madec sometimes i wonder the same 🙈

  2. Roy Bridgewood Avatar
    Roy Bridgewood

    Photography
    Each time photography saw an advancement people assume it was dead ‘Digital will kill film’ was the cry of the late 90’s ‘Video, who will bother with stills’? Was the next cry

    In truth the photography industry committed commercial suicide. One of the leading camera companies that ran blindly towards the gallows by devaluing photography to generate more camera sales is the company whose name this very competition carries.

    1. Brad Smith Avatar
      Brad Smith

      Roy Bridgewood this isn’t a photography advancement. AI is an image curator, not a creator.

    2. Duenkel Portrait Art Avatar
      Duenkel Portrait Art

      Roy Bridgewood What did Sony do to devalue photography? Not arguing… just wondering what you’re referring to.

    3. Roy Bridgewood Avatar
      Roy Bridgewood

      Duenkel Portrait Art not just Sony. (Referenced as its their competition). Most canera and equipment manufacturer’s push so hard on ‘unit sales’ the camera became a commodity and was sold as if it where on par with a kettle or microwave (white goods). The images often used to push these sales were often edited to a point they were no longer a photograph (my opinion).

      in 2019 camera sales started to decline and camera and equipment manufactures started to worry. We lost Pentax and Bowens ( a very strange sight for anyone attending the photography show)

      I worked as a still life, product photographer, I would not change my camera for many years and I still use a 503cw with a digital back (now only for pleasure).

      It will not be long before AI will be used by companies to generate ads soon the camera will become what it once was, a desired possession for those with a passion

      Ai is here and anyone can generate a masterpiece

  3. Bill Buchanan Avatar
    Bill Buchanan

    Considering that AI images are based upon millions of photographs, who owns the copyright? It’s a legitimate question.

    1. Brad Smith Avatar
      Brad Smith

      Bill Buchanan There’s actually proposed regulation that would make them impossible to copyright at the USG level.

  4. Greg Sheard Avatar
    Greg Sheard

    Meta data should be included in all photography competitions at a bare minimum to stop AI images being entered.

    For true photographers entering competitions, AI entries just devalues the experience, especially when AI images are capable of winning the competition outright.

    The playing fields need to be as level as possible. It’s like entering an amateur photography competition and a seasoned professional wins it – that sucks too!

    1. Kaouthia Avatar
      Kaouthia

      Metadata’s pretty easy to fake, though. Even the “authentication” algorithms were cracked over a decade ago. You can make any image appear as though it’s straight out of the camera, even if it was created solely in Photoshop or, in this case, with AI.

      https://www.computerworld.com/article/2744010/nikon-s-image-authentication-algorithm-cracked.html

      https://digitalassetmanagementnews.org/copyright-and-ipr/canon-image-authentication-code-cracked-by-russian-software-company/

  5. Will Rogers Avatar
    Will Rogers

    I’m amazed it won anything. You can see from the weird hands and the weird focus issues that it’s not real.

    Hopefully AI “photography” dies off rather than replacing one of the few enjoyable careers left.

    1. Duenkel Portrait Art Avatar
      Duenkel Portrait Art

      Will Rogers unfortunately it won’t go away. Technology never goes backwards. The ugly genie is out of the bottle. B

  6. Martin Gillette Avatar
    Martin Gillette

    I’m not surprised this won because it is a nice image. It won because no one was expecting an AI image so they weren’t looking for one. You don’t have to inspect an image to tell it’s AI. The file data making up the image would reveal that. So IMO AI images should not be entered into photographic contests since they are not photographs. People doing AI can form their own contests.

  7. pincherio Avatar
    pincherio

    The sad thing about this story is that the artist entered with the goal of starting a discussion regarding the use of AI and the organizers didn’t even want to engage him on the matter. As far as they were concerned, anything goes.

  8. Giovanni Venturella Avatar
    Giovanni Venturella

    👎🏻

  9. Cindy Haley Avatar
    Cindy Haley

    All I know is that this sparked an incredible debate in my high school photography class today, and it’s almost impossible to get teenagers that riled up about anything remotely educational. 🤣

  10. Angelscry Avatar
    Angelscry

    The rest of the submitted images must be so crap that this image actually won the competition. Personally this image looks like crap to me. The judges need to get their eyes checked.

  11. Andreas and Renee Wedding Photographers Avatar
    Andreas and Renee Wedding Photographers

    Okay, but who looked at that photo and thought it was a real photograph? It’s so obviously generated