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AI/Machine Learning

A photographer trolled an AI art competition with a real photo – and won

- June 21, 2024 2 MIN READ
'FLAMINGONE' by Miles Astray was disqualified after being revealed as a real image. Photo: Miles Astray
A photographer disqualified after winning an AI image competition with a real photo says playing a trick on the judges proved “nature still outdoes the machine”.

Miles Astray’s photo ‘FLAMINGONE’ won the People’s Vote and a Jury Award after he entered it into the artificial intelligence category of the 1839 Awards for photography this month, but was disqualified after he revealed his “twist”.

The disqualification was “a completely justified and right decision that I expected and support fully”, Astray wrote on his website.

“The big surprise here was the organisers’ reaction.”

Astray said Lily Fierman, co-founder and director of 1839 Awards, wrote to him in an email that she appreciated the message at the core of his actions.

“I couldn’t have been more excited to learn that we are on the same page,” Astray said.

Fierman said Astray’s move was “an important, relevant, and timely statement”.

“No one believes in the power of photography more than we do,” she said.

“However, after much internal debate, we decided to disqualify his entry into the AI category in consideration of the other artists who submitted their work.”

Fierman said there were “no hard feelings” and organisers were working with Astray to use the situation as a discussion point among artists.

“We hope this will raise awareness and send a message of hope to other photographers who are worried about AI,” she said.

‘Human-made content has not lost its relevance’

Astray said he hoped a real photograph winning an award for AI images would be a win for creatives, as AI-generated content had changed the digital landscape and sparked “an ever-fiercer debate about its implications for the future of content and the creators behind it”.

“I entered this actual photo into the AI category of 1839 Awards to prove that human-made content has not lost its relevance, that Mother Nature and her human interpreters can still beat the machine, and that creativity and emotion are more than just a string of digits,” he said.

“After seeing recent instances of AI-generated imagery outshining actual photos in competitions, it occurred to me that I could twist this story inside down and upside out the way only a human could and would, by submitting a real photo into an AI competition.”

Astray said FLAMINGONE was the first real photograph to win an AI award, but he had ethical concerns about his submission which he “didn’t take lightly”.

“But I was hoping that these industry professionals and also the audience would find that this jab at AI and its ethical implications outweighs the ethical implications of deceiving the viewer, which, of course, is ironic because that is what AI does,” he said.

Astray’s decision to enter a real photograph into the AI image category of a photography competition has been praised by German artist Boris Eldagsen, who made headlines in 2023 when an AI-generated image he created won the Sony World Photography Awards.

“I have been waiting for this to happen for a long time,” Eldagsen wrote in an Instagram post about Astray’s victory.

“It shows that human imagination and chutzpah can go a long way!”

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