AI Image That Won Sony World Photo Award is Being Sold for $21,000

AI feature
The Electrician.

Boris Eldagsen, the man who was awarded first place for an AI image at the Sony World Photography Awards last year, is selling The Electrician for $21,500 (€20,000).

The German artist’s controversial picture is on sale at the Palmer Gallery in London as part of an exhibit entitled Post-Photography: The Uncanny Valley which contains other AI image prints that are also available to purchase, although none come close to the hefty price tag of Eldagsen’s.

$20,000 is still far below the most expensive piece of AI-generated art ever sold: in 2018, an AI art piece went for over $400,000 which was marketed as the first ever art created by an algorithm.

Eldagsen will be exhibited alongside artists Nouf Aljowaysir and Ben Millar Cole in a series that looks to blend photography with synthetic art. EuroNews reports that Aljowaysir’s work focuses on her Saudi Arabian lineage and the stereotypes of the Arab world contained within machine algorithms.

Meanwhile, Millar Cole’s work plays on known AI artifacts — like too many fingers — by producing otherworldly shapes and figures.

“The artists in the exhibition engage with the current possibilities of creative collaboration with AI tools, harnessing the unique affordances brought on by the various technologies, whilst thinking about their implications,” AI-art curator Luba Elliott tells EuroNews.

“Image recognition tools highlight the imperfection of the machine gaze, whereas photorealistic text-to-image models focus on portraying our collective imagination down to the smallest detail, with the prompt engineer at the steering wheel – taking the viewer to the next stage of art history.”

Boris Eldagsen’s AI Antics

Shortly after Eldagsen was awarded first place in the Creative category of the 2023 Sony World Photography Open competition, he revealed to the world that it was AI-generated — reveling in the fact he had fooled some people — before refusing the prize.

The photo is part of a series titled Pseudomesia: Fake Memories that Eldagsen has been working on since 2022.

A black and white image of a woman holding a transparent tube entwined with thin wires, looking through it with one eye, against a plain background.
The Scientist. | Boris Eldagsen

“I am very happy that I won the Creative category of Sony World Photography Awards 2023 / Open Competition / Single Image,” he wrote at the time. “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.”

Update 4/14: After publication, a SWPA spokesperson reached out to say that “the World Photography Organisation was always aware this image included elements of AI throughout the judging process and during our various exchanges with Boris Eldagsen ahead of announcing him as the Creative category winner in the Open competition on 14th March, he had confirmed the ‘co-creation’ of this image using AI.”

Please find below the statement by the World Photography Organisation, 15.04.2023, to be used in full:

During our various exchanges with Boris Eldagsen ahead of announcing him as the Creative category winner in the Open competition on 14th March, he had confirmed the ‘co-creation’ of this image using AI. In our correspondence he explained how following ‘two decades of photography, my artistic focus has shifted more to exploring creative possibilities of AI generators’ and further emphasising the image heavily relies on his ‘wealth of photographic knowledge’. As per the rules of the competition, the photographers provide the warranties of their entry.

The World Photography Organization’s statement in full:

“The Creative category of the Open competition welcomes various experimental approaches to image making from cyanotypes and rayographs to cutting-edge digital practices. As such, following our correspondence with Boris and the warranties he provided, we felt that his entry fulfilled the criteria for this category, and we were supportive of his participation. Additionally, we were looking forward to engaging in a more in-depth discussion on this topic and welcomed Boris’ wish for dialogue by preparing questions for a dedicated Q&A with him for our website.

As he has now decided to decline his award we have suspended our activities with him and in keeping with his wishes have removed him from the competition. Given his actions and subsequent statement noting his deliberate attempts at misleading us, and therefore invalidating the warranties he provided, we no longer feel we are able to engage in a meaningful and constructive dialogue with him.

We recognise the importance of this subject and its impact on image-making today. We look forward to further exploring this topic via our various channels and programmes and welcome the conversation around it. While elements of AI practices are relevant in artistic contexts of image-making, the Awards always have been and will continue to be a platform for championing the excellence and skill of photographers and artists working in the medium.”

Image credits: Boris Eldagsen