Competition apologises for banning AI photo... that wasn't AI

A man holds a framed photo that was banned from a photograph competition for looking like AI art frmo
(Image credit: Charing Cross Photo / Suzi Dougherty)

AI art has proved so controversial that we can understand why the organisers of art and photography competitions are now being extra wary. We've seen examples of AI-generated images winning contests in both fields with the judges not realising that the winning entries were created by AI, and no competition jury wants to make the same mistake.

But could the heightened vigilance now work against traditional artists and photographers? The judges of one photography competition have had to make an apology after they disqualified a real photo suspecting that it was AI art (If you're looking to make your own competition-ready work, see our picks of the best AI art generators or the best cameras depending on where you stand).

Suzi Dougherty's entry into the photography competition run by the Sydney print shop Charing Cross Photo shows her 18-year-old son posing with mannequins in a Gucci exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum. Taken on her iPhone, it fit the competition's 'fashion' them, and judges admit to having been "intrigued" by the image. However, they decided to disqualify the shot because they began to suspect that it wasn't a photograph but an AI generation.

Considering the controversy around AI art winning competitions, I can see why they would be nervous. On top of that, the mannequins do give the image a sense of the uncanny valley. Unable to verify the veracity of the image using meta data, the judges said they decided to play it safe and disqualify the image. 

In a post on Instagram, the shop wrote that AI is "a murky area at present, and until we work out how best to fairly judge these images, we just can’t accept them." But maybe they could have probed a little further. After all, if they had asked Dougherty, she would have been able to tell them where she took the photo. Dougherty, told The Guardian she has never used AI image generators and doesn't know how they work.

Iain Anderson, the owner of Charing Cross Photo, has now apologised for the mistake. In a post on Instagram, he says that he takes full responsibility for the error. "I apologize unreservedly to her for the mistake I made in allowing this to occur; for allowing the way in which the posting of her image inferred a falsely made accusation of being Ai, when in fact it was not; to our local community & to those of you abroad for any distress or offence this has caused."

He added: "Leading up to the fashion theme the topic of ai was (and continues to be) hotly discussed in the photo lab. This was in the judges’ collective subconscious when Suzi’s image, one of 23 entries submitted in the Fashion themed competition, was scored."

Both Dougherty and the shop can be happy that the controversy has gained the image and the competition more fame than it would have without being banned, and Dougherty's photo is now framed in the window of the shop and up for sale for $500. Dougherty's photo of her son holding hands with a mannequin has turned out to be a very timely exploration of the border between reality and artifice (see our piece on weird AI art for examples of how people have been using image generators).

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Joseph Foley

Joe is a regular freelance journalist and editor at Creative Bloq. He writes news and features, updates buying guides and keeps track of the best equipment for creatives, from monitors to accessories and office supplies. A writer and translator, he also works as a project manager at London and Buenos Aires-based design, production and branding agency Hermana Creatives, where he manages a team of designers, photographers and video editors who specialise in producing photography, video content, graphic design and collaterals for the hospitality sector. He enjoys photography, particularly nature photography, wellness and he dances Argentine tango.