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Winner fools Sony photography contest judges with AI-generated art

Eldagsen won the award, but turned it down.

Published onApril 17, 2023

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Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority
  • Artist Boris Eldagsen won the Sony World Photography Awards with a piece called “The Electrician.”
  • Eldagsen did not accept the prize after revealing his collaboration with AI.
  • Eldagsen says he entered the contest to be a “cheeky monkey” and see if “competitions are prepared for AI images.”

AI art has been an ongoing topic of conversation with the rise of tools like OpenAI’s DALL-E 2 and Midjourney. However, an artist’s recent stunt has fanned the flames surrounding the AI-generated art conversation.

The World Photography Organization (WPO) held its annual Sony World Photography Awards (SWPA). Among the photos submitted to the Open Category, an entry from Boris Eldagsen emerged as the winner. Eldagsen later turned down the award, revealing his piece was made in collaboration with AI (via Peta Pixel).

The piece in question, called “The Electrician,” features two women in a grainy sepia-toned photo. One of the women almost appears to be trying to hide behind the other, leaning her face on the other’s back.

Ryan McNeal / Android Authority

If Eldagsen had accepted the prize, he would’ve received $5,000, photography equipment, and a place in the WPO’s book and exhibit. He also would’ve benefited from exposure and promotion.

On his website, the self-proclaimed “photomedia artist” explained why he entered the Open Category of the SWPA.

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

Eldagsen describes the AI-generated art as a “co-creation.” The co-creation is “the result of a complex interplay of prompt engineering, inpainting, and outpainting that draws on my wealth of photographic knowledge.” The way Eldagsen sees it, he is the “director” telling the AI what to do.

In a statement to Gizmodo, the WPO responded to the stunt by saying:

Given [Eldagsen’s] 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.

Whether this will speed up the debate on AI’s place in art remains to be seen. But this stunt definitely gave the conversation some new life.

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