AI Contest won by Genuine Photograph

"Real Photo, AI Photo Contest"

The concept of artificial intelligence (AI) has been the subject of fascination and concern for many years. From its potential to revolutionize industries to its ethical implications, AI continues to be a topic of heated debate. One area where AI has shown great promise is in generating images and art, often fooling judges into believing that the work is created by a human artist. However, in a surprising turn of events, a not-AI photograph recently won third place in a fine art photography contest’s new AI category. This unexpected outcome raises questions about the limitations of AI generators, particularly in terms of composition.

The photograph in question, titled “F L A M I N G O N E,” captures a flamingo appearing to lose its head. At first glance, the image does resemble an AI hallucination, but it is actually a result of the animal tucking its head away when the picture was taken. The contest where this photograph won, called the 1839 Award, is a relatively new competition organized by the Creative Resource Collective (CRC). The CRC aims to provide resources to fine art photographers and celebrates the merging of art and technology.

Lily Fierman, co-founder and director of CRC, acknowledged the power and relevance of the statement made by Miles Astray, the photographer behind “F L A M I N G O N E.” However, the photo was removed from the award slate because it did not meet the category criteria and it was important to consider the other artists’ submissions. Fierman expressed her organization’s intention to collaborate with Astray on a future blog post about AI in photography.

Astray’s intention behind submitting a non-AI photograph was to highlight the supremacy of real-life art over anything manufactured with the help of an AI. He argued that this jab at AI and its ethical implications outweighed the ethical implications of deceiving the viewer, which is ironically what AI does. Astray had been hinting about the non-AI nature of the photo on his social media accounts and even rallied his followers to vote for the image. This, of course, would not have influenced the judges much.

The replacement bronze award and the People’s Choice Award were given to two former runners in the professional photographer’s AI category. The People’s Choice winner, titled “AI Self 2” by portrait artist Josh New, utilized the Midjourney AI model to create 16 unique images, from which New chose one for submission. Color Correspondence’s new bronze winner claimed to have been created with a custom machine learning model. However, it remains unclear if there was anything ostensibly bespoke about it compared to the other winners.

Interestingly, judging solely by the descriptions provided for each winning photo, the two images that required less hands-on effort came out on top. This raises questions about the role and value of human touch in art. The judging panel for this year’s contest comprised notable members from the photo community and art galleries, including Aliya Nimmons, the photo manager of The New York Times, and Lauren Katz, the senior manager of print sales at Getty. The process utilized in selecting the winners is yet to be fully disclosed.

Looking back at earlier examples of AI-generated photos winning art contests, it becomes apparent that the AI-generated works often have a distinct, plastic-like appearance and the compositions may not make sense. The winning entry to the Sony World Photography Awards and the Midjourney-generated piece in the Colorado State Fair art competition are clear examples of this. However, “F L A M I N G O N E” stands out because of its composition and the intentional framing by the photographer. It is not just the vibrant colors or the temperature of the photo; it is the thought and purpose behind it that make it captivating.

AI art generators have made significant progress in producing impressive visual works. However, there are certain aspects of art creation that are difficult for AI to replicate. These aspects include authorial intent, composition, framing, and lighting. While AI can generate visually stunning images, it often lacks the creative intent and emotional depth that a human artist brings to their work. This is where the true value of human touch in art lies.

As AI continues to advance, it is important to recognize its limitations and the unique contributions that human artists bring to the creative process. The controversy surrounding the not-AI photograph winning a photography contest highlights the ongoing debate about the role of AI in art and raises questions about the criteria used to judge artistic merit. While AI can certainly enhance creativity and offer new possibilities, it is the artist’s vision and intent that ultimately distinguishes human-created art from AI-generated images.

In conclusion, the unexpected triumph of a not-AI photograph in a fine art photography contest’s AI category sheds light on the limitations of AI generators in terms of composition. The winning photograph, “F L A M I N G O N E,” captivated judges with its intentional framing and human touch. Despite the advancements in AI-generated art, there are certain aspects of art creation that AI struggles to replicate, such as authorial intent and emotional depth. This incident serves as a reminder of the unique contributions that human artists make to the art world and the ongoing discussion surrounding AI’s role in the creative process.

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