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AI Photography blurs the Boundaries of Creativity

The Sony World Photography Awards made waves in March when they unveiled "Pseudomnesia: The Electrician," the winner of the creative open category.

However, German artist Boris Eldagsen, who created this thought-provoking piece, gained notoriety for not accepting the prize because his work was created by artificial intelligence.

German artist Boris Eldagsen's work. Source: Pseudomnesia: The Electrician.

Eldgsen explained on his website that he wanted award organizers to be more aware of the difference between AI-generated images and photography and asked them to create separate competitions for AI-generated work.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines photography as the process, practice, or art of taking photographs, the business of producing and printing photographs. 

As AI algorithms become increasingly adept at generating realistic and high-quality images, they challenge the traditional notion of photography as a human-driven process.

Never Chan, 23, a wedding photographer, said the fairness of photography competitions depends on the rules. For example, the rules may indicate that only color correction is permitted, while post-processing is off-limits.

It takes 10 seconds for Chan to use AI to edit the photo. Source: Never Chan

She enhances her photographs, for example, by removing unwanted objects from the background. However, she draws a clear line between AI's role in post-processing and its involvement in the actual act of photography. 

"I'll ask where my clients met and assist them in taking photos there. But if AI can alter the background of a client's photos, they would lose the realism of the shot and the memorable moment of capturing it,” said Chan.

In a statement provided to The Young Reporter, Ivan Tsoi, the spokesperson of the Hong Kong Photo Contest, said the contest commits to the principles of Documentary Photography. That is seeing the world as perceived through the photographer's lens rather than through post-production images produced by AI.

Tsoi said they go through a rigorous evaluation process for the shortlisted works. To ensure compliance with the competition's rules, each photograph is meticulously examined by comparing it with the original RAW files and checked for any modifications entrants might have made to their work.

If the rules are broken, such as using digitally adding or removing objects, the entrants face disqualification from the competition.

William Cheng, 29, a specialized buildings photographer, said photos, even AI-generated ones, must convey emotion through tactile photography and personal sentiments. 

“If the photo from Eldagsen has no emotion or does not express emotion, it will not win the award,” he said. 

Cheng uses AI to change one of his photographs to look like a painting. Source: William Cheng

Cheng added that AI-generated photos are also original creativity because the photographer still needs the tactile sense of photography in order to type some emotional wordings to the ChatGPT robot to generate the picture.

"AI lowers the threshold for human creation, making it easier to innovate and make better work,” said Cheng.

In stark contrast, Jada Poon, 40, a portrait photographer, thought that the use of AI or photo editing software often results in photographs that lack realism. She tends to capture and preserve the moments that her clients hold dear. 

Poon never uses AI and only uses editing software like Adobe Photoshop. Source: Jada Poon

“If my reason is to express something, and when AI can do it, I don’t think it’s necessary to use a camera to press the shutter button. I think whether it can impress people is the most important thing,” said Poon.

The contrasting perspectives offered by the three photographers, Chan, Cheng, and Poon, underscore the multifaceted nature of the AI's role in photography. 

Chan is worried that if AI becomes a popular tool for clients to edit the photographs she takes, they might demand price reductions. 

However, Cheng said that AI could only partially replace the role of a skilled photographer. He sees the photographer's value as irreplaceable, primarily because they possess the expertise to immerse clients in the shooting atmosphere.

Poon agreed,  “Art itself, including photography, is not just about the last picture, but the entire process is humanized,” she said.

However, using AI threatens to strip away the emotional depth and authenticity these connections bring to Poon’s work. She added it would compromise the very essence and meaning of the art form if AI were to replace the human touch in portrait photography. 

In a parallel exploration of technology's impact, the future of journalism is also transforming. AI's integration into the field has become a central concern.

In a statement provided to The Young Reporter, World Press Photo spokesperson Andrew Davies said neither alterations to a photograph that mislead the public nor staging events while depicting them as spontaneous are acceptable in journalism, nor should one publish a photorealistic synthetic image made by artificial intelligence and pretend it is an actual photograph.

“If AI, technically speaking, creates a photo, it is not a photographer's work, it is an artwork,” said Poon.

《The Young Reporter》

The Young Reporter (TYR) started as a newspaper in 1969. Today, it is published across multiple media platforms and updated constantly to bring the latest news and analyses to its readers.


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