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A photographer from Germany says he won a competition by submitting an image not taken with his camera – but created using artificial intelligence. Boris Eldagsen says he chose to be a “cheeky monkey” and submit an image made by artificial intelligence to spark a debate about the use of AI in the industry.

Eldagsen submitted a portrait titled “Pseudomnesia | The Electrician” to the Sony World Photography Awards, saying the competition allowed the use of “any device.” He was selected as one of the many winners in the competition’s creative open category. However, he refused the prize at a ceremony earlier this month. 

“Thank you for selecting my image and making this a historic moment, as it is the first AI-generated image to win in a prestigious international PHOTOGRAPHY competition,” he said in a statement, posted on his website, “How many of you knew or suspected that it was AI generated? Something about this doesn’t feel right, does it?”

The black-and-white image shows a woman leaning on the shoulder of another woman. “AI images and photography should not compete with each other in an award like this. They are different entities. AI is not photography. Therefore I will not accept the award,” he said.

“I applied as a cheeky monkey, to find out, if the competitions are prepared for AI images to enter. They are not,” he said, urging for an open discussion about this topic in the photography world. 

“If you don’t know what to do with the prize, please donate it to the fotofestival in Odesa, Ukraine. I will happily provide you the contacts,” he said. 

Eldagsen claims the photography competition had no clue the photo was AI-generated. In a long blog post, he chronicles the events he claims happened between his submission of the photo and his refusal of the ward. 

He says he applied in December, and gave little detail about the production of the image since the competition allowed “any device” to be used. He said he made the short list and was asked what the title was, saying in the blog post the title Pseudomnesia means “fake memory.”

When he found out he won on March 2, he explained in an email to the competition organizers the image was generated with AI and suggested Sony, which runs the competition, hold a panel to discuss AI in photography. He claims the company ignored his suggestion, but told him he could keep the award.

Eldagsen also alleges that the competition ignored inquiries about the nature of his work, instead putting out a statement by Founder and CEO of the World Photography Organization Scott Gray, which said the competition welcomes “photographers to experiment and explore the dynamism of the medium.”

CBS News has reached out to the organization for comment and is awaiting response. 

Eldagsen says the organization offered him a chance to do a Q&A on their website, but never followed through. “In my opinion, [awards organizer] Creo is not interested in the fears and needs of the photo community,” he said, alleging they have avoided him.

According to BBC News, a spokesperson for the organization said at the awards ceremony, Eldagsen told organizers the image was a “co-creation” using AI. 

They felt the piece met the criteria for the category, which “welcomes various experimental approaches to image-making, from cyanotypes and rayographs to cutting-edge digital practices,” they told BBC News, adding that the awards will still always champion “excellence and skill of photographers and artists working in the medium.” 

Eldagsen referred CBS News to the blog post and statement on his website when asked for further comment.