Real Photo Dismissed from Photo Contest for Being “Made by AI”

a laptop is sitting on a table next to a candle.

An Australian photo competition recently dismissed a real photo as a selection because the judges became suspicious that it was AI-rendered.

Just months after a completely different photo competition in Australia was supposedly fooled into giving an AI-generated (and rather poorly at that) photo the winning spot in its final selection, the opposite has now happened.

It seems that AI-rendered imagery is making not just photographers but also photo competition judges paranoid about it creeping into everything.

Photographer Suzi Dougherty took a curiously surreal-looking shot of her own son with two elegantly dressed mannequins during a Gucci exhibition and decided to submit the photo because she liked the look of it.

For Dougherty, that was the end of the matter for the time being. She later got a surprise however, but not in the form of her photo being a winning selection.

Instead, shortly afterward, a friend showed her an Instagram post in which the competition organizers had showcased the photo as an ineligible example of suspected AI photography.

The amusing thing here is that it was probably the mannequins that contributed most to the suspicion.

The photo’s color palette is vibrant and because of this reminiscent of certain AI photos, but the blandly deformed faces of the female-looking mannequins likely sealed the deal on suspicions.

According to Dougherty herself speaking to The Guardian, “I wouldn’t even know how to do an AI photo. I’m just getting my head around ChatGPT.”

As for the competition organizers, Charing Cross Photo, a store in Sydney, Australia, their IG post claimed that they were at first “intrigued” by the image, but then became suspicious due to ambiguous suspicions by their judges.

The competition organizer also stated, “We want the images to come from your real-life experience, and not sourced from cyberspace,”

They also add, “There is no way we can be completely sure the image submitted was made by AI but you really can’t ignore the gut instincts of four judges.”

Despite Charing Cross Photo owner Iain Anderson’s claims that he and the judges examined the photo’s metadata to verify its authenticity, they still couldn’t make up their minds and went with their suspicions instead.

He claimed that it “gave us an opportunity to reinforce that this is about taking the image yourself, being present in the environment.”

Well, oops.

After Dougherty saw their mistaken assumption and called them out on it, affirming that she really took the photo herself in the real world, Charing Cross Photo posted to Instagram again in “An Update” confirming that the shot was real.

Their belated half apology only went as far as a compliment about the image being a “great play on what is real”. By then they claimed it was already too late to let her win the $333 ($500 AUD) prize she might have otherwise received.

Oh, and they also offered to waive her entry fee for her next submission to the same competition.

AI “photography” has indeed made a mess of some things lately, and this is one more example of its effects at work.

The new technology is wonderful for rapidly creating photorealistic visuals of nearly any scenario or context, but the very fact that it’s so good at this can easily make so many real photos, even if slightly edited, immediately look suspect.

As for this writer, seeing the photo, I say it was the combination of color palette and mannequin faces that sealed the disqualification deal. That said, the judges could have just asked instead of making a dumb and easily correctible mistake based on simple suspicion.

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Shotkit Journalist, Writer & Reviewer

Stephan Jukic is a technology and photography journalist and experimental photographer who spends his time living in both Canada and Mexico. He loves cross-cultural street photo exploration and creating fine art photo compositions.

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