The Electrician – an AI generated image – gained attention earlier this year for winning at the Sony World Photography Awards. Later the photo’s creator, Boris Eldagsen, revealed it to be the work of AI. The image is now on show in Preston as part of the Lancashire Photography Festival.
The Lancashire Photography Festival is the largest outdoor photography festival in the UK, hosting a variety of works from photographers around the world. This includes The Electrician; sparking discussion amongst the public about its place in the festival and photography more widely.
Is ‘The Electrician’ real art?
Earlier this year, Eldagsen entered the image in the Sony World Photography Awards and won the Creative Category. The photographer then revealed The Electrician to be the work of AI and refused to accept his prize.
Eldagsen’s initial motivation for entering the image was to encourage conversation about the place of AI in photography and art more widely. After winning the competition however, he also used the incident as an example of how organisations are not prepared for the effects AI will have on the photography.
In an interview earlier this year, he said: “The photography scene needs to reposition itself and face the fact that it is no longer photography itself but AI that is defining the future of the medium. The innovations come thick and fast… No one can say where we will be at the end of this year. But I expect ‘text-to-anything’ to become reality, with the ‘anything’ encompassing video, 3D, music, whatever.” However, Eldagsen maintains the view that AI-generated images are not true photography and should not compete in such competitions.
The Electrician is now on show at Lancashire Photography Festival; standing at over four meters in height, the image has caused debate in Preston over its place in the festival. Some members of the public recognise the photo as true art, arguing that AI-generation is simply the next step for photography, others view the work as plagiarism and consider AI to be a threat to true, genuine artistry.
Garry Cook, the festival creator, also considered The Electrician to be a work of plagiarism. This is due to the way generative AI works to produce an image; searching through the internet and pulling elements from existing photography to create the final product.
Despite this, he still believes that The Electrician is an important work to have on show. He said: “It was to provoke discussion about AI – which will have huge implications for photography. I also quite liked the idea that an image, that has been published around the world, is on display in Preston – the biggest version of this image ever displayed.”
The development of AI has become an increasingly more prevalent issue over the last few months, with art being one area majorly affected by such technology. Ultimately, The Electrician demonstrates the rising changes many photographers will soon have to face and brings into question what AI will mean for the future of art.
Lancashire Photography Festival
The Lancashire Photography Festival began in June and runs until the end of September. As an outdoor festival, photography works are on display across Preston’s streets and parks – from internationally-acclaimed photographers and the local population alike.
“It’s been a mixture of massive engagement work with local people, local community groups, local schools and local photographers. Then, on the other side of it, we’ve got some of the world’s best photographers, who I’ve asked to take part in the festival and are displaying some of their amazing work.”Garry Cook (Lancashire Photography Festival creator)
This includes works by social-documentary photographer Jenny Lewis, who photographed new mothers within 24 hours of giving birth as part of her ‘One Day Young’ project. These photographs are currently located in Miller Park.
Other exhibitions on show include a collection of surreal, Icelandic landscapes by Serena Dzenis, which can be found in Avenham Park.
The festival also showcases photography created by a number of community projects, which focus on the people of Preston and the surrounding area. For example, the ‘48hs in Preston’ project invited the public to take documentary-style pictures in and around Preston over a two day period in July. This was done in an attempt to create a ‘snapshot’ of Preston life and develop an archive of the people who live there. Some of these images later went on show for the world-first photography festival parade, which took place on 19 of August.
This is the second Lancashire Photography Festival to take place, the first of which acted as a ‘trail run’ in April 2021. This initial festival saw over 200 large-scale images displayed over 16 locations around the city. The works of over 60 photographers were on show with all images able to be viewed from the streets. The first festival was launched only a few days after Covid lockdown regulations had been relaxed and, due to the event’s popularity, was extended to last a total of three months.
Garry hopes that the festival will become a regular event in Preston and that the city will one day become a tourist destination for photography.