Artist refuses photography award after revealing photo was made by AI

18 Apr 2023

Pseudomnesia: The Electrician. Image: Boris Eldagsen

Boris Eldagsen said he entered the Sony World Photography Awards to see if ‘competitions are prepared for AI images’.

A German artist who won one of the categories in a major global photography competition has refused the award after revealing his submission was created by AI.

Boris Eldagsen entered the Sony World Photography Awards and won the creative open category for his entry titled Pseudomnesia: The Electrician. The award website described the image as “a haunting black-and-white portrait of two women from different generations, reminiscent of the visual language of 1940s family portraits.”

Eldagsen revealed on his website that he submitted the creation to make a statement about how photography awards are not ready to receive and assess AI-generated images yet.

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

“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?”

A photographer for more than 30 years, Eldagsen said AI has been a recent interest in his artistic work. He describes Pseudomnesia as a “complex interplay of prompt engineering, inpainting and outpainting” that draws on his wealth of photographic knowledge.

“With my refusal of the award, I hope to speed up this debate,” he added.


Organisers of the award were not pleased with the way Eldagsen painted the narrative, however. A spokesperson told media outlets that the artist misled them about the extent of AI that would be involved.

“The creative category of the open competition welcomes various experimental approaches to image making from cyanotypes and rayographs to cutting-edge digital practices,” the spokesperson told Vice.

“As such, following our correspondence with Boris and the warranties he provided, we felt that his entry fulfilled the criteria for this category, and we were supportive of his participation.”

The organisers said they “recognise the importance” of the debate around the impact of increasingly sophisticated AI technology on photography competitions and that they look forward to “further exploring” the topics.

“While elements of AI practices are relevant in artistic contexts of image-making, the awards always have been and will continue to be a platform for championing the excellence and skill of photographers and artists working in the medium,” the spokesperson added.

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic