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Sydney lab wrongfully disqualifies ‘AI image’

Sydney printing lab, Charing Cross Photo (CCP), has mistakenly disqualified a real photo from its competition after judges became suspicious it was AI.

The photo, captured by Suzi Dougherty, shows her son alongside two mannequins at a Gucci prop exhibition at Powerhouse Museum. Rather than contact Dougherty about their suspicion, CCP jumped the shark and, potentially motivated by recent high-profile AI media stories, posted a statement on Instagram.

‘In our most recent photo competition, CCP received an image that first intrigued all the judges and then suspicion set in so we decided not to include the photo for judging,’ Charing Cross Photo wrote in a post on Instagram showing the photo, captured by Suzi Dougherty.

‘We have already indicated [in the socials as well as the T&C’s of the competition]
that though we may in the future include a section for AI images we are not accepting them now so ask that you do not submit any to the @ccphotocomp

‘It’s a murky area at present and until we work out how best to fairly judge these images, we just can’t accept them. We want the images to come from YOUR real life experience, and not sourced from cyberspace. Our competition is all about showing us you understand light, composition, f-stops and story etc. We only know for sure if you take the photo yourself.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. ‘

Dougherty discovered her photo had been disqualified after a friend alerted her to CCP’s Instagram post.

‘She said, “Are you upset?” I said, “No, if they think it’s AI it must be OK”,’ Dougherty told The Guardian. ‘I wouldn’t even know how to do an AI photo, I’m just getting my head around ChatGPT.’

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CCP published an update stating that Dougherty called and informed them the photo was real, captured in a museum with two mannequins, who do look somewhat AI-ish. The update doesn’t include an apology to the photographer, or an explanation why judges felt it was AI and the choice to go public.

‘It is a great play on what is real and not in our world indeed. Sadly for the entrant the timing was not great considering that AI is such a hot topic, and without the background info we felt the need to question the entire image. We can confirm that this photo did not contravene our T&C’s.

‘We thank the entrant for being understanding with this. They expressed a delight in helping to create the conversation about AI. It is still a hot topic for us all.. so lets keep chatting.

In the meantime this may serve as a reminder to provide valid information with images when it comes to a competition. The judges and competition team don’t always share those captions. The information required is well considered before revealing any detail. The image after all needs to stack up on its own. just not be an AI’.

Dr Patrick Hutchings, who studied creative application of AI at Monash University and heads an AI generative music platform, notes how it’s becoming harder to distinguish an AI image from real photos. He attributes this to AI becoming more powerful and digital photo post-processing.

‘Generally the images look like they’ve had some digital processing, but a lot of photos have had digital processing either by the camera or someone’s put it through Photoshop,’ he told The Guardian.

Dougherty, whose $10 entry fee was refunded, has taken the wrongful disqualification in good spirit, and may even enter CCP’s next photo contest.

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