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Sony World Photo Awards 2023 : The beginning of the nightmare by Thierry Maindrault


Archives – April 18, 2023

415,000 photos or supposedly so were received for the Sony World Photo Awards 2023 : among the winners, a creation by artificial intelligence!!
Sony tried to cover up the matter and most of the media went silent.
However, this is only the beginning: imagine tomorrow!
And read the formidable report by our collaborator Thierry Maindrault.


I was informed that the sad theatrical comedy of the boy caught his fingers in the jam jar would end in a tragic burst of laughter. I could have given you this information last Friday, which is far from having gone around the world; but, three days of reflection and the various opinions seemed to me important to remain in a topicality which must make reflect. Bye Bye predigested fake news.

The SWPA, (abbreviation for the close friends) it was for 2023, the reception of 415,000 photographic images, coming from 200 countries. The objective is to bring out the crème de la crème of world photographic production, with prizes, exhibitions and all sorts of media privileges for the lucky ones. Which explains the jostling at the gate.

It is also a Jury that one imagines handpicked by competence for the different categories rewarded. With a super jury for the final choice of the best world photography of the year.

Everything is going perfectly and the Jury for the creation category designates Boris Eldagsen’s “electrician” photograph as the best photograph in its category, set to be the best world photograph 2023.

Boris, photographer for more than thirty years, passionate researcher and very honest man, as soon as he learns of his selection, informs the organizer. He did not put a pixel, nor a speck of personal money in this photograph which was entirely produced by a binary computer, by solicitations.

The organizer does not intend to change his mind and claims that no matter how the image is produced, he maintains his choice and invites the “pseudo-author” to come and collect his reward.

Arriving in London, Boris clearly announces his opinion and waives the prize (see his texts below).

Sony, bad player, takes down the binary image which was enthroned in its exhibition and which was seen by all the journalists of the press visit a few hours before the awards ceremony. The rankings of the creation category have been changed on the spot.

Without going into more details, which are quite revealing of our modern world, there are still a few unanswered questions.

Looking at all of the 415,000 award-winning photographs (assumed to be photographic good), it is understandable that this image was chosen. Worrying, for the future and for photography, isn’t it?

Looking, even distractedly, at this digital image, it is obvious that despite Boris’ very advanced work and research, it is not a shot, nor even a coherent laboratory montage.

Looking carefully at this image, I wondered how a Jury that I imagine of ultra-competent personalities could have missed it. Except fatigue if this image was in the last hundred of the 415,000 conscientiously viewed.

This case, thanks to the prestige of the SWPA, should lead everyone to reflect on the effective role of each other and on what is acceptable on the truth side and unacceptable on the side of false truths.

Boris Eldagsen’s two key interventions in this sad masquerade.

(without them communicating it was AI-generated or properly answering press inquiries)

I am very happy that I won the creative category of Sony World Photography Awards 2023 / Open Competition / Single Image.

I have been photographing since 1989, been a photomedia artist since 2000. After two decades of photography, my artistic focus has shifted to exploring the creative possibilities of AI generators.

 The work SWPA has chosen is the result of a complex interplay of prompt engineering, inpainting and outpainting that draws on my wealth of photographic knowledge. For me, working with AI image generators is a co-creation, in which I am the director. It is not about pressing a button – and done it is. It is about exploring the complexity of this process, starting with refining text prompts, then developing a complex workflow, and mixing various platforms and techniques. The more you create such a workflow and define parameters, the higher your creative part becomes.

I have been the first in Germany to teach this as a craft in open online workshops:

I call my images “images”. They are synthetically produced, using “the photographic” as a visual language. They are not “photographs”.

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

Doing public talks and being a consultant for universities, magazines, agencies, festivals, museums, and organisations, I see my role as a practitioner of knowledge transfer. As the ‘Head of Digital’ of Deutsche Fotografische Akademie, I am a member of the AI work group of Deutscher Fotorat, in which the German photo associations discuss the chances and risks of this disruptive technology at large.” – Boris Eldagsen


REFUSAL OF THE PRIZE of the Sony World Photography Awards, Open Competition / Creative Category at the London Award ceremony:

Thank you for selecting my image and making this a historic moment, as it is the first AI generated image to win in a prestigous international PHOTOGRAPHY competition.

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.

I applied as a cheeky monkey, to find out, if the comeptitions are prepared for AI images to enter. They are not.

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?

With my refusal of the award I hope to speed up this debate.

Having been a photographer for 30 years before I turned to AI, I understand the pros and cons of this debate and will be happy to join the conversation.

If you dont know what to do with the prize, please donate it to the fotofestival in Odesa, Ukraine. I will happily provide you the contacts.

 Many thanks” – Boris Eldagsen

Written by Thierry Maindrault, Monday, April 17, 2023.

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