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He submitted an AI image to a photography competition and won – then rejected the award

Growing concerns over artificial intelligence
Growing concerns over artificial intelligence 01:21

A photographer from Germany says he won a competition by submitting an image not taken with his camera – but created using artificial intelligence. Boris Eldagsen says he chose to be a "cheeky monkey" and submit an image made by artificial intelligence to spark a debate about the use of AI in the industry.

Eldagsen submitted a portrait titled "Pseudomnesia | The Electrician" to the Sony World Photography Awards, saying the competition allowed the use of "any device." He was selected as one of the many winners in the competition's creative open category. However, he refused the prize at a ceremony earlier this month. 

"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," he said in a statement, posted on his website, "How many of you knew or suspected that it was AI generated? Something about this doesn't feel right, does it?"

The black-and-white image shows a woman leaning on the shoulder of another woman. "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," he said.

"I applied as a cheeky monkey, to find out, if the competitions are prepared for AI images to enter. They are not," he said, urging for an open discussion about this topic in the photography world. 

"If you don't know what to do with the prize, please donate it to the fotofestival in Odesa, Ukraine. I will happily provide you the contacts," he said. 

Eldagsen claims the photography competition had no clue the photo was AI-generated. In a long blog post, he chronicles the events he claims happened between his submission of the photo and his refusal of the ward. 

In a statement to CBS News, a spokesperson for the contest said the judges knew the image used AI before selecting Eldagsen as a winner.

Eldagsen says he applied in December, and gave little detail about the production of the image since the competition allowed "any device" to be used. He said he made the short list and was asked what the title was, saying in the blog post the title Pseudomnesia means "fake memory."

When he found out he won on March 2, he explained in an email to the competition organizers the image was generated with AI and suggested Sony, which runs the competition, hold a panel to discuss AI in photography. He claims the company ignored his suggestion, but told him he could keep the award.

The World Photography Organisation said after selecting Eldagsen, but before announcing him as a winner, he "confirmed the 'co-creation' of this image using AI."

"In our correspondence he explained how following 'two decades of photography, my artistic focus has shifted more to exploring creative possibilities of AI generators' and further emphasising the image heavily relies on his 'wealth of photographic knowledge'. As per the rules of the competition, the photographers provide the warranties of their entry," the organization said. 

Eldagsen alleges that the competition ignored inquiries about the nature of his work and offered him a chance to do a Q&A on their website, but never followed through. "In my opinion, [awards organizer] Creo is not interested in the fears and needs of the photo community," he said, alleging they have avoided him.

The organization says because Eldagsen has declined the award, they have kept up "with his wishes have removed him from the competition."

"Given his actions and subsequent statement noting his deliberate attempts at misleading us, and therefore invalidating the warranties he provided, we no longer feel we are able to engage in a meaningful and constructive dialogue with him," the spokesperson said. 

Eldagsen referred CBS News to the blog post and statement on his website when asked for further comment. 

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