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