AI creates sensational “photograph” – and wins SWPA competition

AI creates sensational “photograph” – and wins SWPA competition
AI creates sensational “photograph” – and wins SWPA competition

03/16/2023 11:14 am 4 mins

The double portrait of two women looks like a photograph from the 1940s. But the women never lived. The image was created with the help of AI – and has now been awarded first place in the “Creative” category at the Sony World Photography Awards 2023. Photo artist Boris Eldagsen explains how such images are produced – and why it can be dangerous

The picture shows two women: while the one in front looks past the photographer, the one behind puts her hands on her shoulders with a worried or thoughtful look. A puzzling scene that never took place. Both women never existed.

The intense image, reminiscent of black-and-white photographs from the 1940s, was not shot by a 20th-century photographer – it was created with the help of artificial intelligence (AI). German photo artist Boris Eldagsen had it constructed using AI deep learning generators. He is considered one of the leading AI experts in the German photo scene.

The picture convinced the jury of the Sony World Photography Awards 2023 (SWPA). Out of more than 200,000 entries, the best individual pictures of 2022 have just been awarded. Eldagsen’s picture won in the “Creative” category.

The image synthesized by the AI ​​is not a photograph

The image is from Eldagsen’s PSEUDOMNESIE series. “Everyone should decide for themselves how to interpret the picture,” Eldagsen told As an artist, he wants to give impetus. “What does the picture trigger in the viewer, what thoughts, feelings, memories?”

His pictures are not photographs, although they would look like it. “I call them pictures.” The photographic is only used as a visual language.

How Eldagsen produces his pictures? “There are currently three major image generators that I work with,” says Eldagsen. He uses the respective strengths of each AI. The exciting thing is to create a picture just from your own imagination. Eldagsen then enters these as so-called prompts – this means work instructions in spoken form to an AI system. “I’ve been photographing for 30 years. The more I know about the technique of photography, the more I can control that an AI image looks like a real photograph.”

Eldagsen works on a picture like this for two to three days, he says. “It’s work for me.” One cannot say that only the AI ​​​​can create the picture. “My creative part in such a picture is 50 to 80 percent.”

Images created with AI: Fascinating – and dangerous?

Eldagsen’s images are fascinating and disturbing at the same time. A past is staged on it, people are created that never existed. If such images are possible, then our historical past can also be optically staged in such a way that it is difficult to tell whether an image is real or programmed.

A whole new realm of possibilities and dangers is opening up with the introduction of artificial intelligence such as Chat-GPT. Because of course you can not only use AIs creatively to send in pictures for a photo competition. They can also be used criminally and to control opinions.

Eldagsen, who also gives lectures and workshops on the subject, also sees this danger. “You can now create fake documentary images very quickly.” Such misleading or potentially harmful content is called deepfakes. During a lecture, he himself had scenes from the Ukraine war created to show how dangerous fake pictures can be. In addition, anyone can create such a picture – “from eight to 88 years.”

On closer inspection, errors can still be seen in many of the images created by an AI. If you look at the hands of the two women in the double portrait, you will still see discrepancies. But the AIs are constantly being optimized. At some point, will it really be impossible to tell whether a photo is real or fake?

Who is the originator – the AI ​​or the artist?

With his first place in the photo competition, Eldagsen also wants to start a discussion about what structure photo competitions should have in the future, he says. The photo artist advocates separate competitions and categories for AI-generated images. “I am in favor of clearly separating real photographs and AI images.”

As the “Profifoto” portal reports, the SWPA’s conditions of participation leave room for interpretation: “In the case of AI-generated images, this question is currently the subject of legal disputes that have not yet been clarified.”

Eldagsen submitted three AI-generated images to the photo competition. He referred to his website, as he says. This is clearly visible: The images are generated with an AI. “I deliberately left it open to test how awards deal with it.” When he won, he spoke to the SWPA organizers again. They would have consulted and finally given their OK. He even offered that the award could be given to a photographer, says Eldagsen. “In the end, I see my task as doing a stress test for such tenders.”

AI wins photo competition in Sydney

Apparently, Eldagsen is operating in a gray area with his creation entering the competition. In a similar case, an AI image submitted as “Photography” won a contest. In Australia, photography retailer Digidirect awarded first place in its photo competition to one Jan van Eyck, the sender of the image. His picture shows surfers in the sea. But it turned out that the image came from Absolutely AI, a Sydney-based AI studio.

“The surfers in our picture never existed,” is the statement from Absolutely AI. The image is made up of “an infinite number of pixels from countless photos that have been uploaded online by anyone and everyone over the years.” “The machine is now the superior artist compared to the human,” the statement said.

The article is in German

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