A major photography prize was given to a man who used AI to generate it

The AI created image the Electrician by Boris Eldagsen

Earlier this month, it was revealed that the prestigious Sony Photography Awards had named Boris Eldagsen as the winner of its creative open category for an image he submitted called The Electrician. Eldagsen then admitted to Sony that the photo was not a photo at all. It was an image he created via unnamed AI generators.

The photo was part of an online art collection from Eldagsen that he called Pseudomneisa. The page states:

These images were imagined by language and re-edited more between 20 to 40 times through AI image generators, combining “inpainting”, “outpainting” and “prompt whispering” techniques.

So why did he submit one of these images to a major photography contest? In an interview with The Register, Eldagsen stated he wanted to start a conversation about how AI will change how we look at art and photography in the future. He stated:

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?

At first, the competition's organizers still named him as a winner even though he admitted the image's true origins. Eldagsen still refused the prize for winning the category, which included $5,000, some Sony camera products, and a trip to London to view the winning photos.

A spokesperson for the competition told The Guardian in a statement that it "felt that his entry fulfilled the criteria for this category, and we were supportive of his participation." It added:

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.

As we see more and more AI image generators launch, like DALL-E, MidJourney, and Microsoft's Bing Image Creator, we are seeing more and more debate about how these services could be used to spread misinformation with "deep fake" photos. Google recently revealed plans to launch its own AI image and video creators, but added that they will not be programmed to create images with humans.

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