How an AI Image Shook the World of Photography and Sparked a Controversy

How an AI Image Shook the World of Photography and Sparked a Controversy

What if I told you that one of the most prestigious photography awards in the world was won by an image that was not taken by a camera? And what if I told you that the artist who created it refused to accept the prize, saying that AI is not photography? Sounds unbelievable, right? Well, that’s exactly what happened at the World Photography Organization’s Sony World Photography Awards this year.

The image that caused all the fuss is called The Electrician, and it was created by Boris Eldagsen, a German artist who uses AI to generate images that look like vintage photographs. The image is part of a series called PSEUDOMNESIA: Fake Memories, which Eldagsen describes as “fake memories of a past, that never existed, that no one photographed. 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.”

Eldagsen submitted his image to the Creative category of the Sony World Photography Awards, which is open to “artists who have created imaginative images using photographic tools.” To his surprise, his image was selected as the winner of the category, beating thousands of other entries from around the world.

But instead of celebrating his achievement, Eldagsen decided to decline the award and make a statement. He wrote: “Thank you for selecting my image and making this a historic moment, as it is the first AI-generated image to win in a prestigious international photography competition. 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. AI is not photography. Therefore I will not accept the award.”

Eldagsen also traveled to London to attend the ceremony and even got up on stage (uninvited) to read his statement in person. He said that he wanted to “speed up the process of the Award organizers to become aware of this difference and create separate competitions for AI-generated images.”

His bold move sparked a lot of reactions from the photography community and beyond. Some praised him for his honesty and integrity, while others criticized him for being arrogant and disrespectful. Some agreed with him that AI images are not photography, while others argued that they are just another form of creative expression. Some wondered if he was trying to make a point or just get attention, while others admired him for raising important questions about the future of photography and art.

What do you think? Is Eldagsen right or wrong? Is AI photography or not? Should AI images be allowed to compete with traditional photographs in awards like this? How do you feel about AI-generated art in general?

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