Photography Awards Failings Bring Call for Judges to Raise the Bar

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The Sony World Photography Awards is known for being a prestigious photography contest that attracts professional and amateur photographers from around the world. Winning one of its category awards can significantly boost a photographer’s career. However, a recent result in the Open Category Awards of the 2023 contest has raised some concerns about the judging process and the future of photography contests in general. It may not seem like a big deal now, but it could potentially become a larger issue in the future.

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The 2023 Sony World Photography Awards Open competition was open for free entry and had 10 different categories to choose from. One of the main requirements for entering the Open category was that the photos needed to be taken in 2022. Out of potentially hundreds or even thousands of entries, only fourteen images made it to the final shortlist of the Creative category.

Upon closer inspection of the Creative category entries, it becomes apparent that some of them don’t adhere to the traditional definition of photography. While there may be elements of layering and digital manipulation involved, all the shortlisted entries appear to be compositions of multiple photos. It seems that significant effort went into photographing each element and creating the final image submitted.

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The winner of the Creative category was announced as German photo-media artist Boris Eldagsen for his image titled “PSEUDOMNESIA | The Electrician.” The image is a black-and-white portrait of two women from different generations, reminiscent of family portraits from the 1940s. It undoubtedly evokes nostalgia, much like old photographs of our grandparents and parents.

However, if you take a closer look at Boris’s winning image, you’ll notice some discrepancies in the skin texture and finer details. This isn’t because it was taken on an old camera or with a vintage lens. Boris himself revealed that the winning image is not a photograph at all but an image generated by AI tools. It’s shocking that the Sony World Photography Awards didn’t catch this. Boris openly admitted in an interview that he had informed the awards committee that his image was an AI creation, not a photograph. Yet, he is still listed as a winner on their page, almost three weeks after the announcement.

Boris has released a statement clarifying that while he entered an AI-generated image into the competition, he didn’t have any malicious intent. He wants photography contest organizers to create separate categories for AI images to address this issue effectively.

The Sony World Photography Awards should have exercised more diligence in verifying the authenticity of the entries. Without inspecting each image thoroughly, it’s understandable that judges couldn’t identify AI-generated images from photographs. However, requesting raw files from shortlisted photographers would have been a minimum requirement before announcing the winners. Clearly, more should have been done to ensure entrants’ copyright ownership, especially for the final shortlisted entries.

This incident raises concerns about the authenticity of other entries in the 2023 Sony World Photography Awards. It is essential for the SWPA to address these concerns and thoroughly review all entries before announcing the overall winners. Allowing AI-generated images to win prestigious photography awards undermines the integrity of the competition and potentially opens the door for anyone to generate potential winners using AI programs.

The judging process of the Sony World Photography Awards is now under scrutiny, and there’s a growing demand for an official statement from the committee. It will be interesting to see how they respond if more AI entries are discovered.

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