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Berlin-based photographer Boris Eldagsen created an image with an AI and won a photography prize with it - but then gave it back. Who is this man and what are his motives? How is AI changing photography?
CCB Magazine:Mr. Eldagsen, you won the Sony World Photography Award 2023, worth 25,000 euros, with an AI-created image, but declined the prize. Were you more surprised about winning the award or the jury about your withdrawal of the award acceptance?
Boris Eldagsen:I was very surprised about winning the prize - and about the fact that the organizer obviously didn't care that the picture was created with an AI. I had pointed this out to SONY beforehand. I had also made three offers to the agency, but they did not respond. For me this was a test. I wanted to find out whether photographs and AI-generated images can no longer be distinguished in the future - and whether and how photo competitions are prepared for this.
CCB Magazine:What kind of image did you create and what kind of AI did you use?
Boris Eldagsen: The picture is called The Electritian, I created it with the AI DALL-E 2. For DALL-E 2 no previous knowledge is necessary - you describe the motif with words, the AI generates a total of four images to choose from. DALL-E 2 is one of the most important AI tools today, along with Midjourney and Stable Diffusion, with Midjourney probably being the best intersection of performance and usability. However, the program is only accessible through the Discord gaming server - which deters many who are not gamers. I used the AI DALL-E 2 because it seemed the most effective for my project of creating a 1950s-style black-and-white image, and the other platforms didn't exist at the time. The image shows two women standing close together; both with expressive looks, both not real.
I wanted to find out whether photographs and AI-generated images can no longer be distinguished in the future - and whether and how photo competitions are prepared for this
CCB Magazine:What can an AI do that a human can't?
Boris Eldagsen:The AI can create new images from a huge amount of data in a matter of seconds, something no human can do. While most still have weaknesses with hands or feet, they are already very good with faces, torsos or skin, and it is only a matter of time before all areas are optimized. However, humans are still needed for operation. That's why AI won't replace the photographer; fifty to eighty percent of the work in my picture comes from me, for example. No AI will replace the experience that a photographer can bring to prompting. Nor will it replace the evaluation, fine-tuning and post-processing according to the photographer's own requirements.
CCB Magazine:Why do you think you actually won the award?
Boris Eldagsen:You have to ask the organizer this question. For me, the painting fulfills all the requirements I have for a work of art. After all, I come from the art academy, the picture functions as such.
CCB Magazine:You intended to initiate a debate with the AI-generated image. What kind of debate do you mean?
Boris Eldagsen:My point was to raise awareness of what AI can do now and in the future. Because the main problem with AI is that the platform, the features, are evolving and multiplying so quickly. It's like a big bang. It's going 360 degrees in all directions. And it's really hard to keep track of this anymore. It frustrates me, too. And this is not just about what is already technically possible. It's about a new disinformation potential that emanates from this process - and that will accompany us in the future.
CCB Magazine:Photographs always serve as historical testimonies as well. Isn't photography in danger of losing this status? Fake pictures of Trump's arrest or Putin's genuflection before Xi are already circulating on the net.
Boris Eldagsen:This is indeed a real danger that we have to counter. There have already been attempts in the British press to declare AI images as fakes. However, there is no corresponding legal situation yet. Another problem is copyright: several court rulings in the U.S. have concluded that you can't copyright AI-generated images. AI comic artist Kris Kashtanova has just lost a legal battle - and several court cases are currently deciding whether the practice of scraping, the use of other people's images in generating AI images, is legal. All of this will change photography, although photographers will continue to exist. Although the traditional professional photographer will fade into the background, publishers will also increasingly produce symbol images via AI in the future, simply because it saves money and time. This also applies to graphics. But experienced photographers with their professional expertise will continue to exist.
CCB Magazine:How did you actually get into photography? And where does your interest in AI come from?
Boris Eldagsen:I studied art and philosophy to become a teacher, but it quickly became clear to me that I would not end up in school. Then, around the year 2000, I entered the new economy. I worked freelance in digital marketing as an idea generator for twenty years, I've been taking pictures for 30 years, and I've been working with AI for 1.5 years. In the process, my workflow is becoming more and more complex. I create the images for this in different ways. I take the previously generated footage as input for the next step - because I love to try out new workflows with AI, and of course it brings me a lot of attention at the moment. Currently, for example, I'm booked a lot for exhibitions and as an expert for workshops. I just can't go back now. If I were out for four weeks, that would be it for AI expertise.
CCB Magazine:You make a strict distinction between photography and promptography. What's that all about?
Boris Eldagsen:The term promptography stands for AI-generated content. Their production is started with a prompt. The prompt can be a text, image, video or sound. However, I am only the prompter of this term, I found it in a comment from a Peruvian photographer on my Facebook profile. The term existed before.
The AI will not replace the photographer. What we need is a quality check that provides information about whether or not an image has already gone through an AI process. A kind of fact check for images
CCB Magazine:You are also member of the German Photographic Academy (DFA) and the German Photographic Council's Technical Progress Working Group. On April 20, 2023, the German Photographic Council drafted an AI position paper that is primarily intended to protect the art of photography. What exactly is at stake here?
Boris Eldagsen:The KI position paper is very important. It is the first time that professional photographers' associations have come together in Germany. In the paper, we call for new ethical standards for dealing with photographic sources. The aim must be to make authentic material recognizable and verifiable in the future, while generated images should no longer be considered photographs. Ultimately, we need a quality check that provides information about whether or not an image has already gone through an AI process. A kind of fact check for images.
CCB Magazine:At EU level, a risk-based AI law, which is to classify AI systems into risk groups and regulate them accordingly, was already adopted in June. To what extent is this an important development - also with regard to the arts and culture sector?
Boris Eldagsen:This is a very important decision, because we need to re-regulate the proliferation. One problem area here is and will remain the information potential already mentioned and the issue of copyright. Questions will be: Where does the training data come from? If I use AI, do I have the copyrights to the image? And what about the individual users, who often have the opportunity to break copyright within the workflow? And who controls it all? In the past, the questions in photography were, is my technique good enough? What's the outside temperature? Can I find someone to model, how much money will I give them? We are only at the beginning of a new decade here, in which nothing will ever be the same again in the future.
CCB Magazine:Mr. Eldagsen, what's next for you? What are you planning and when will you finally win a prize that you won't give back?
Boris Eldagsen:I will continue to engage in the debate, experiment with AI and also take photographs. But more important to me than prizes are the upcoming exhibitions of my new project "Trauma Porn", which deals with the long-term consequences of war and feeds the AI with footage from the Nazi era.
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