An image created by artificial intelligence (AI) has won the top prize in a prestigious competition, sparking a wave of controversy among photographers, reports PetaPixel. The winning work entitled The Electrician was created by German artist Boris Eldagsen and received the first prize in the Creative category at the World Photography Organization’s Sony World Photography Awards 2023, despite not being shot with a traditional camera.

Eldagsen’s images are part of a larger series called PSEUDOMNESIA: False Memories, which aims to recreate a photographic style reminiscent of the 1940s. In reality, however, these images are “fake memories of a past that never existed, that no one photographed.” In his blog, Eldagsen explained that he used his experience as a photographer to act as a director in the creation process, and the AI generators served as “co-creators”.

Eldagsen also noted that while the work is inspired by photography, its presentation was meant to emphasize that it is not a traditional photograph.

“Participating in open calls, I want to speed up the process of the Award organizers to become aware of this difference and create separate competitions for AI-generated images,” writes Eldagsen.

As a result, he refused the prize, noting in a message to the organizers:

“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 wrote. “How many of you knew or suspected that it was AI generated? Something about this doesn’t feel right, does it? 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.”

After Eldagsen’s refusal, the photo was removed from the exhibition and competition website, and the organizers have not yet commented on the matter. The artist himself even personally came to London for the ceremony to read the statement.

It remains unclear whether the organizers were aware that the winning image was generated by artificial intelligence, but Eldagsen claimed to have informed them.

Either way, the artist has achieved his goal, as the incident has already fueled debate about how to deal with AI-generated art as it increasingly infiltrates the cultural landscape.