German photographer Boris Eldagsen, who won the Creative category of the prestigious Sony World Photography Award, has refused the prize on the grounds that he used an artificial intelligence image generator to create his submission. The prizewinning “photo,” titled Pseudomnesia: The Electrician, depicts what Eldagsen characterized in his submission as “a haunting black-and-white portrait of two women from different generations, reminiscent of the visual language of 1940s family portraits.” In fact, Eldagsen made the work by supplying prompts to the image generator DALL-E 2, which was developed by OpenAI, the Bay Area company responsible for AI chatbot ChatGPT.

The Creative category of the photography prize has historically welcomed experimental practices in regard to imagemaking. World Photography Award officials have said they were aware the work was AI-generated. “During our various exchanges with Boris Eldagsen ahead of announcing him as the Creative category winner in the Open competition on March 14, he had confirmed the ‘cocreation’ of this image using AI,’” said a spokesperson in a statement. “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 emphasizing 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.”

Eldagsen, who said he entered the image to be a “cheeky monkey,” disputes this claim.

“Thank you for selecting this image and making this a historic moment, as it is the first AI-generated image to win a prestigious international PHOTOGRAPHY competition,” he wrote on his website. “How many of you knew or suspected that it was AI generated? Something about this doesn’t feel right, does it?” Eldagsen has said that his goal in entering the work was to find out if competitions were prepared for AI images to enter. “They are not,” he wrote. “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.”