In a historic moment at the 2023 Sony World Photography Awards, a German artist named Boris Eldagsen won the creative category of the open competition with an AI-generated image. Eldagsen thanked the judges for making it a historic moment, being the first AI-generated image to win in a prestigious international photography competition.

However, Eldagsen went on to declare that “AI images and photography should not compete with each other” and declined to accept the award. He believes that the rise of AI carries important philosophical and practical implications that need to be teased out if the integrity of competitions judging the human act of photography is to be maintained.

The winning entry was an intimate portrait of two women in the style of a bygone era. In the foreground, a woman looks wistfully out of the frame; just behind her, an older woman, perhaps her mother, stares with the weight of long decades as she rests her hands on the younger woman’s shoulders to seemingly resist sliding away into the past.

Scott Gray, founder and CEO of the World Photography Organisation, said in a statement that photography as a medium “was constantly adapting and evolving”. With technological advancements, a wider audience of creators is engaging with lens-based work, and the organization looks forward to seeing how this can expand the reach and impact of photography.

Eldagsen admits that, in his entry, he did not signal that the work was AI-generated, but he also claimed not to have hidden the fact that his work has gradually shifted toward AI in recent years. He wants the photo world to have an open discussion about what we want to consider photography and what not.

A similar discussion was sparked last month when Samsung phones were found to be producing sharper images of the moon using AI. Eldagsen wants to see his art form recognized for what it is, “a co-creation.” It’s not about pressing a button and it’s done; it’s about exploring the complexity of this process, starting with refining text prompts, then developing a complex workflow, and mixing various platforms and techniques.

Last year, an AI-generated artwork won a prize in a US state fair, causing debate about how much of the creative process can be ceded to machines before art stops being art. Visual artists have rebelled against the scraping of their work by companies looking to train image creators.

Stability AI, maker of the Stable Diffusion tool, is being sued by artists for using their work to create images “based entirely on the training images” that are “derivative works of the particular images Stable Diffusion draws from when assembling a given output”. Photography company Getty Images is also suing Stability AI for using its photos in training data.

The rise of AI-generated images has sparked a debate about the definition of photography and what we consider art. It is clear that photography as a medium is constantly adapting and evolving, and with technological advancements, a wider audience of creators are engaging with lens-based work. However, it remains to be seen how competitions and institutions will adapt to the integration of AI in the world of photography and visual arts.


Leave a Reply

Sign In


Reset Password

Please enter your username or email address, you will receive a link to create a new password via email.