Photo by Miles Astray

Can You Tell If This Image Is Real Or AI? Photography Contest Judges Couldn’t

3 min read

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In a real–life UNO Reverse scenario, an authentic photo depicting Mother Nature’s splendour has recently won an AI photography contest.

This photo of a flamingo burying its head behind its body was taken in 2022 by photographer and writer Miles Astray at a beach in Aruba. A tiny island nation just off the coast of Venezuela, Aruba is within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the locals speak Dutch and the Creole language Papiamento.

Photo taken by Miles Astray

AI or not? A ‘sneak’

Miles Astray submitted the photo as an entry in the AI category of the 1839 Awards, a prestigious body that holds two annual competitions for photographers around the world. Judges at this year’s 1839 Awards included representatives from The New York Times, Getty Images and auction house Christie’s. 

Here’s where things get interesting. Astray won the AI category, and his photo was originally published in the AI category on the winners’ page. It seemed that no one noticed the ‘sneak’. Technology publication Android Authority then picked up the story and reached out to the awards body for comment. Before Android Authority’s article went live, Astray’s photo was removed from the category. 

As of writing, winners of the AI category were, as expected, all images generated by AI. The gold award winner was an AI image of a woman with three herons in the background. The image, “Untitled”, was made by landscape and nature artist Robyn Finlayson from Queensland. By “made”, we mean Finlayson fed a series of text prompts into an AI.

The AI category winner. Source

Meanwhile, the People’s Choice Award winner was a ‘self-portrait’ by Oklahoma photographer Josh New. The image was ‘created’ with AI art generator Midjourney.

The People’s Vote Award winner. Source

We win… for now

A spokesperson for the 1839 Awards later confirmed to Android Authority that Astray’s photo was eliminated from the category:

“After much internal debate, we decided to disqualify his entry into the AI category in consideration of the other artists who submitted their work.

“We understand that was the point, but we don’t want to prevent other artists from their shot at winning in the AI category. I’m sure you see why we’ve made this decision and the reasoning behind it. We hope this will bring awareness (and a message of hope) to other photographers worried about AI.”

The organisation also extended an invitation to Astray to “to work with us and give a statement for a future blog post we are going to do regarding this exact topic, with his submission, press release, and any statement he shares as a jumping-off point. As an artist, his voice will make a difference in this conversation”.

Astray responded in a statement that the fact he won confirmed his hypothesis: “There is nothing more fantastic and creative than Mother Nature herself. I don’t demonise the new technology and see its potential, but currently I see its limitations and dangers even more clearly.”

So, for now, humans win!