Was it "Prompt-ography" or AI that generated controversy at Sony awards?

Sony World Photography Awards 2023
German Photographer Boris Eldagsen's entry into the Sony World Photography Awards 2023 winning the creative open category (Image credit: © Boris Eldagsen Sony World Photography Awards 2023)

A German photographer who came first place in the creative open category at the Sony World Photography Awards rejected his prize after revealing the image was AI-generated. Boris Eldagsen submitted the photo without no expectations of winning but withdrew himself from the competition when the announcement was made. 

Eldagasen isn't the first photographer to test the authenticity of AI photography. Recently, an AI-generated image fooled judges of an Australian photo competition and another deceitful photographer gained 28K followers by posting AI-generated portraits. According to Eldagasen, he made it very clear the image was AI generated and wanted Sony and Creo to open the conversation prior to the awards ceremony but it wasn't until the BBC and the Independent picked up the story either company released a statement.

The image Eldagsen submitted looks like a vintage 1940s wet plate photograph and depicts a younger woman looking directly at the lens and an older woman hiding behind her clutching her shoulders. Electric wires hang from the top of the image and on the right-hand side of the frame, another hand is pictured. Titled Pseudomania, which translates to fake memory, Eldagasen says the name hinted towards the nature of the photograph and made no effort to hide how it was made. 

In an interview with BBC Radio 4 (around 1:23:30), Eldagasen said "I think it’s very important not to call it AI photography but to call it something within itself." He suggested a term from a discussion online, crediting only 'a Peruvian photographer,' who said "It is Promptography – photography done with prompts." This is as opposed to photography made using light.

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Following the announcement of his win, Eldagsen shared a chronological series of events on his website, starting with the submission of his image, to being told he had been shortlisted, to checking by email that it was known the image was produced "...as an experiment with AI generators, knowing that there will be an outcry amongst the photographer’s community."

When an AI image slipped through the cracks of an Australian photo competition run by camera retailer DigiDirect people put it down to the fact the panel of judges was perhaps not world-leading photography experts. However, this is the first image to win a prize in a major photography competition judged by leading photographers and industry experts. 

The Sony World Photography Awards are widely accepted as one of the most prestigious photography awards, with a cash prize of $25,000 for the overall winner plus Sony camera equipment. A spokesperson for the World Photography Organisation said they were aware AI had been used in the creation of the image but since it was submitted in the creative category, which is open to experimental work, they deemed it acceptable. 

A spokesperson for Sony commented, "The objective of the Sony World Photography Awards is to establish a platform for the continuous development of photographic culture. The decision about which images are selected for shortlists and awards are the choice of the World Photography Organisation (WPO) and its expert panel of judges, and Sony is not involved in this process.

The Sony World Photography Awards continue to act as a platform for championing the excellence and skill of photographers and artists working across the medium and highlighting the important stories of the photographers. Sony supports the development of photographic culture through this partnership with the WPO, as a global imaging company that encourages creativity and inspiration."

Creative category or otherwise, Eldagasen's success in the Sony World Photography Awards begs the question "Is it photography or is AI a whole new field of its own?"

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Hannah Rooke
Staff Writer

Having studied Journalism and Public Relations at the University of the West of England Hannah developed a love for photography through a module on photojournalism. She specializes in Portrait, Fashion and lifestyle photography but has more recently branched out in the world of stylized product photography. For the last 3 years Hannah has worked at Wex Photo Video as a Senior Sales Assistant using her experience and knowledge of cameras to help people buy the equipment that is right for them. With 5 years experience working with studio lighting, Hannah has run many successful workshops teaching people how to use different lighting setups.