Winner of AI Photo Contest Disqualified After He Reveals He Actually Took the Photo

Real photo wins AI photo contest category

When the 1839 Awards contacted photographers with the results of its Color Photography Contest, they could never have guessed Miles Astray‘s response. Not only had the photographer won third place in the AI category, but he'd also won the People's Vote for an image of a flamingo whose head appeared to be missing. The only problem? Astray's photo was not AI-generated but is actually a photo he shot in Aruba.

Astray disclosed to the organizers that his photo was not actually AI and at that point, was disqualified from the competition. But as word got out about the mishap, many saw it as a win for photography. While Boris Eldagsen made headlines for his AI photo fooling judges at the Sony World Photography Awards, this is the first time we're seeing photography beating new technology in such a large public forum.

In a world where the presence of AI is increasing, and creatives are wary of what it means for their livelihoods, Astray's win can be seen as a victory for photographers.

“I entered this actual photo into the AI category of 1839 Awards to prove that human-made content has not lost its relevance, that Mother Nature and her human interpreters can still beat the machine, and that creativity and emotion are more than just a string of digits,” Astray shares.

After seeing recent instances of AI-generated imagery outshining actual photos in competitions, it occurred to me that I could twist this story inside down and upside out the way only a human could and would, by submitting a real photo into an AI competition.”

For their part, the Creative Resources Collective, which manages the 1839 Awards, has been quite open to the debate that Astray's win sparked.

“We fully appreciate the powerful message Miles relayed with his submission, F L A M I N G O N E,” to the AI category,” Creative Resources Collective founder and co-director Lily Fierman tells My Modern Met. “We agree that it is an important, relevant, and timely statement.”

Fierman also emphasized that Astray's disqualification was decided after an internal debate out of fairness to all the entrants. “There are no hard feelings on either end, and we're excited about working together to share this wider message with photographers,” Fierman says.

For his part, Astray has been overwhelmed by the positive response, which even included a funny exchange with Eldagsen on Instagram. And he was pleasantly surprised by the positive reaction that the photo contest had to his experiment. Overall, he's just grateful that “nature still outdoes the machine.”

This surreal photo of a flamingo won Miles Astray a prize in the AI category of a photo contest.

1839 Award - AI Category - People's Award

The only problem—Astray's photo was real. This led to his disqualification.

1839 Awards Winner's gallery before disqualification

Winner's gallery before disqualification.

1839 Awards Winner's gallery after disqualification

Winner's gallery after disqualification.

That was ok with Astray, as he was hoping to prove that regular photography can still outshine technology.

The reaction has been positive, even leading to an exchange with Boris Eldagsen, whose AI photo tricked judges at a different contest.


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A post shared by Miles Astray (@milesastray)

Miles Astray: Website | Instagram | Facebook

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Miles Astray.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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