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Given the rapid and impressive advancements made in AI image generation, where users are able to leverage computer AI's to create complex images with just a series of text prompts, this sort of thing was really only a matter of time. Still, it seems alarming that an entirely AI-generated image has been selected as a winner in the prestigious Sony World Photography Awards.


Submitted by German "Photomedia & AI artist" Boris Eldagsen, the pre-war style portrait of two women, perhaps mother and daughter, was named as the winner of the Open Competition / Creative Category. The problem is though, that this is not a photograph at all, it is an AI-generated image; something that has no doubt been a matter of great embarrassment for the World Photography Organisation who host the awards.

Officially crowning an ineligible winner is one of the worst nightmares for the organisers and judges of any such event, but the worst thing is that this one was easily avoidable. There is no doubt that AI-generated images are becoming extremely difficult to distinguish from the real thing, especially in the context of a Creative category where experimental edits are allowed, take these incredibly realistic looking pictures for example.

Image #2 Prompt – "a woman in a red jacket and scarf, a portrait by Joseph Pisani, trending on cg society, maximalism, 35mm lens, dslr camera, shallow depth of field"


AI's are well known to take liberties with human form though, with hands being one of the biggest failings, and it doesn't take much to spot those machine-learned flaws in the winning image. Maybe believable at first glance, the abnormal knuckle structure of the second lady's right hand, and the impossible position and distorted fingers of her left hand should be enough to at least make you question something. Add to that some facial deformity and some very unnatural skin texture, and it really is a big surprise that this wasn't picked up somewhere in the process.

To say that this process of trial and error really draws on true artistic ability that is comparable to original work is ostensibly bollocks!

In fairness though, that may be exactly what the artist was aiming to test out here. Having been awarded the prize in mid-March, he initially seemed to celebrate this as an achievement in the AI field and has been open in admitting that this is an AI-generated image. Always knowing that the entry should not have been considered, Mr Eldagsen has subsequently refused to accept the award, albeit a month later, and in doing so has made a statement, both figuratively and literally.

"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. I applied as a cheeky monkey, to find out, if the competitions are prepared for AI images to enter. They are not."

The entry has since been removed from the list of winners and finalists, but not before this test of the system resulted in the worst case scenario, likely not helped by the fact that the Open and Youth Competition sections appear to be judged by just one person. An unenviable and actually unfair burden of responsibility but even so, some sort of validation checks should surely have spotted the error, especially given the very open use of AI technology on the entrant's public profiles.


That is of course assuming that AI images were disallowed in the first place and, although it has been retrospectively disqualified, it seems that the use of AI was not explicitly addressed in the rules. A valid test then, but should the work of an AI ever be allowed in an event like this?

Obviously questionable copyright and authorship complexities aside, an AI-generated image can never be considered in the same category as true photography, artwork, or even digital art creations using manual tools like Photoshop etc. Each of these processes involve a level of input and artistry that AI usage simply does not.

Image #1 Prompt – A black and white photo of an elderly couple holding hands on a park bench, shot on Tri-X 400 –q 2


Sure, you'll see AI artists telling you that there are many nuances in inputting the right series of prompts and references to get the results and I don't dispute that for a second, but to say that this process of trial and error really draws on true artistic ability that is comparable to original work is ostensibly bollocks!

Perhaps it is best put in the words of Dr Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum),

"I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here: it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it."


As long as that is the case, it is likely that an otherwise phenomenal piece of technology will be undermined by irresponsible misuse. It may be then, that the only realistic way that photography events such as the World Photography Awards can avoid being disrupted by AI entries, is to give it a true category of its own.

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