For those who know me well, I am fairly keen to enter an art/photography competition now and again, especially any that take me out of my comfort zone. Usually official comps with loads of terms and conditions and entry fees, and industry-accredited judges.
DigiDirect is a business that holds a FREE weekly comp for photographers. It's not a high-end comp; anyone can enter, even with a phone snap, and any image can win. You can imagine the number of entries they get. In fact, from my work background, and given the scope of a company like this, no one with actual experience in judging photos would let that through, it's most probable the work experience kid culls and picks the winner. And gets excited about it as they 'got to do something cool'.
Or, they go eenie meenie minie moe.
But I try to enter at least once a month to some of these more low brow comps (other photography gear businesses run similar comps too) especially if they are themed outside my normal interests. Why? To challenge myself creatively; so I am forever honing my skills, changing the way I look at things and, to keep my mind thinking outside the box. A fresh mind, a fresh look. And hey, they are a way to more productively fill any gaps I have rather than 'watch and binge'.
This past week (1st Feb), the comp had a very broad theme of 'Summer'. I didn't enter this particular competition as it is a genre I shoot often. Obviously many others did, the winning entry (pictured at left), in the end - is quite amazing. However.
Now, here is a MONSTROUS however, that affects photographers and artists alike.
The winning entry - is NOT a photograph. It isn't even a real person's name on the entry (DigiDirect didn't even write the correct name - they used Jane Eyke, the entry is under a Jan van Eyke). It was delivered by an AI company, pushing its boundaries to see what happens.
Supposedly they came forward, and rejected the winning dollars (actually a gift certificate for the company), but DigiDirect is still promoting the image as the winning photographic entry on its social media venues, with, and understandably so, a lot of peeved creatives commenting. As is the winning business.
What for? Publicity I imagine (edit: having read up further on it now, yes I am sure, for publicity). Well here I am, also writing about it adding to the machine hey!
But - they did make a statement on DigiDirect's announcement post (I have removed their name here, to avoid myself running on their mouse wheel of extra publicity, but can easily be found if further interested).
We have to come clean. This is an AI generated image that we entered as an experiment.
We’re at a turning point with AI technology and having a machine generated image win a photography competition is the ultimate test.
As photographers ourselves, we didn’t do this to embarrass or humiliate the community but to prove that we’re truly living in a new world.
Please check out our page for the full statement.
Cheers - PRETEND NAME team.
Then on their own insta page:
This week, we won a popular @digidirect photography competition by entering a drone shot of a pair of surfers at sunrise.
It’s a beautiful image, but it’s not real. It’s the world’s first AI generated award-winning photograph.
After learning that we’d won, we came clean to the company running the competition and returned the cash prize. So why did we do it?
We did it to prove that we’re at a turning point with artificially intelligent technology by passing the ultimate test. Could an AI generated image not only slip by unnoticed (not one person who has seen the image has sensed anything out of the ordinary) but actually be awarded the top prize by a photography expert?
The answer is resoundingly yes.
We will look back on this time as the time everything changed. The genie is out of the bottle and there’s no going back as automation moves into our everyday lives.
Recently we have seen ChatGPT pass law, business and medical exams but no one has been discussing the impact that AI will have on the creative industries.
Back to our award-winning ‘photograph...’
We entered the photography competition using the name Jan van Eycke, the same name as the 15th century painter who is known for creating the most stolen artwork of all time.
Or to be more accurate, was the most stolen artwork…until now.
The surfers in our image never existed. Neither does that particular beach or stretch of ocean. It’s made up of an infinite amount of pixels taken from infinite photographs that have been uploaded online over the years by anyone and everyone.
Every AI artwork has the capacity to steal millions or even billions of elements from paintings, photos and videos to create something new and breathtaking.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that we’ve reached the point where machine is now the superior artist to man.
History may look back on our little photography experiment as a turning point when we started to notice the new world we’re living in.
That’s why we’ve titled our controversial award winner, 'The Most Stolen Photograph of all Time'.
Feel free to reach out to us with questions.
How egregious. Ridiculous
I think they have given themselves unqualified 'arent we great pointing this out', positive recognition for their deceit. Award winning - is a stretch. Hardly an 'award winning' competition; in terms of photography accolades – DigiDirect’s weekly competition is very small fry. There are no stringent rules or regulations on entry, nor fees to cover the costs of any formal judging.
Official photographic ('high end' the terminology they have chosen) comps have all sorts of check points built in to ensure this would NOT be able to happen (winning entries HAVE to submit their RAW (capture) files before winners are announced, for starters). This is also for copyright reasons. The majority who enter this particular competition would not know what a RAW file is, they take a snap with their phone and enter. YOu get to see the entries as people submit - if it so desired you, and many even often even out of theme. I wonder often if they even read there is a theme involved!
But, back to this synthicity. Just looking at it, you know it isn't a real image - even if you don't have any awareness of how waves work. So, unless this was solely for the publicity between the two businesses, a bit more consideration needs to go into choosing a winning entry for a specific genre?
The Ai business said "we didn’t do this to embarrass or humiliate the community" but by golly, it has to be an embarrassment to @DigiDirect unless, being talked about was the goal, unless likes and comments... was the goal. If it wasn't - the entry would be removed by now.
This coming week's theme is 'At The Zoo'. So, what they are promoting now is, as photographer's, we dont even need to go to 'the zoo'? We can all just sit at home and use an AI generator to enter? :) Looking forward to seeing the winning entry.
But, as a creative, my thoughts go to, what does this mean for artists? And how far, will be too far. Is it something we should be thinking about in our practices? I don't think any AI can replace the thought, the emotion, the planning, the mark making, the textures, that a creative brings to the table. In fact, after the over-saturated fakeness novelty wears off, it may even strengthen collectors and decorators, wanting for more 'real'. Let's keep at it! :)