$120,000 winning image apparently staged, but no rules broken
The winners of one of the world's richest photography competitions, the Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum International Photography Awards (HIPA), were recently announced at an award ceremony held at the Dubai Opera. Now in its 8th season, with the theme of Hope, the awards offered a total prize pool of a staggering US$450,000.
The Grand Prize Winner, Malaysian photographer Edwin Ong Wee Kee collected a prize of US$120,000 for his winning image. But the photographic community is up in arms, and the image has attracted a considerable amount of controversy. And while the images does not appear to break any rules of the contest, the fact that it was apparently staged and captured as part of a photo tour has left a sour taste in the mouths of many.
The story first broke on the Pics of Asia website where the author called out photo competitions for their “complete lack of ethics”. However, how the competition organisers or judges could have known that the image was staged is questionable. The article calls into question the way travel images are now being staged and manipulated, which is in itself is a fair argument to raise.
The winning image, Mother’s Hope, depicts a Vietnamese woman and her child. According to Digital Camera World: Edwin says that he loves to travel with his camera. He'd pulled over on the side of the road while in Vietnam to capture this intimate frame…
In an article with Malaysian news outlet, The Star, Kee said that his photo was captured “spontaneously” and was not staged. “In this trip to Vietnam, we (the photographers) went to the rice field and there was a mother (who had her children with her) that passed by,” the photographer told The Star. “We then asked her whether we could take her photo of which she willingly sat down and allowed us to take her photo. We never told her to stand up or sit down. Even after taking photos, she was still there and didn’t move until we left.”
A Facebook post by photographer Ab Rashid on 18 March, with the heading Behind the scene of HIPA grand Prize win photo!! shows a different perspective on events. Apparently, the man in the white t-shirt is Kee.
“Another classic photo of a photography tour group gathered around one subject, shooting the same image from almost the same angle,” writes Etienne Bossot, on Pics of Asia.
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