Awards have always been an essential part of recognizing and celebrating achievements we as humans reach in a certain field. They are a symbol of appreciation and validation for individuals who gave their time, effort, and dedication towards excelling in their respective domains. But what happens when something like an award-winning photograph turns out not to be human-made?
Behind the photograph
The story of Boris Eldagsen, a German artist, and his award-winning “photograph” has become a big statement on the advancement of AI. Eldagsen stated on his website that his artistic focus shifted more towards exploring the creative possibilities of AI generators after two decades of photography. He explained that he saw the Sony Photography Awards’ regulations allowed “any device” and entered to find out if people were ready for AI to enter award shows.
Inspired by the visual language of the 40s and utilizing AI tools he released pseudomnesia (from Greek: fake memory) or a collection of photographs of past events that never took place. One of the photographs in this collection, The Electrician, was the one he chose to apply at the award show. Lo and behold, it won.
Boris Eldagsen, a German Photomedia artist, entered his work titled “PSEUDOMNESIA/The Electrician” to the Sony World Photography Award. The award organizers had stated that any device could be used. pic.twitter.com/KDE2N8juUw
— CGTN America (@cgtnamerica) April 19, 2023
The blame game
On the day of the awards, Eldagsen refused the prize with this to say: “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.” Instead, he sought the need to have an open discussion on “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, the first artist to win an award for an AI generated image in a photography competition, refused to accept the award at the recent Sony World Photography Awards ceremony. pic.twitter.com/lHvY3d78Fa
— Michael Dooney (@MichaelDooney_) April 14, 2023
But Sony’s response might surprise you as they claimed were always aware the image was co-created by AI. The category wherein the photograph won, the creative category, welcomes all experimental methods. Utilizing AI seems to fulfill the criteria. Despite all that, the company fulfilled Eldagsen’s wishes and reassigned the award. However, it seems that they were offended by his refusal of the award. They claimed he purposefully misled them, leading them to suspend all activities with him.
Of course, the artist defended himself on his site, releasing an email he sent Sony. This contains many valid points such as how inquiries about the case weren’t being answered. Sony claimed they were looking forward to a more in-depth discussion with him, but according to him, they never reached out. He also says that claiming they knew the image was made with AI is wrong.
We cannot for sure say what happened between the artist and Sony, but what we know for sure is that the aftermath of this incident has sparked a heated debate in the art community. It’s just as Eldagsen wanted in the awards ceremony.
With the rise of AI, the question “What award is AI going to win next?” remains. Should there be a separate category for AI-generated content or should they be included in existing categories alongside human-made works? Eldagsen’s refusal of the award highlights the need for an open discussion about art and the role of AI in the creative process.