Photographer Put on Blast After Winning $120,000 Photography Award for a ‘Staged’ Photo
The latest winner of a prestigious photography award has come under fire after behind-the-scenes photos showing at least eight other photographers capturing the same winning subject emerged on social media.
Edwin Ong Wee Kee, a Malaysian photographer, won the $120,000 grand prize at the recent Hamdan International Photography Award (HIPA), an annual event “showcasing some of the most awe-inspiring work of professional and amateur photography enthusiasts from around the world.”
The 2018 contest, which marked the award’s eighth season, centered on the theme “Hope.”
According to HIPA, the winning photo, which was shot in Vietnam, documented “an intense humanitarian moment” — “the feelings of a Vietnamese mother whose speech disorder did not prevent her from feeling hopeful and evoking a sense of strength for her children.”
Ong, a traditional Chinese medicine physician, describes himself as a “keen enthusiast,” according to photography magazine PDN Pulse. He told the outlet that his winning shot was spontaneous and happened during “an unforeseen stop.”
“In the world’s biggest single contest prize open to the global photography community, Malaysian Edwin hit big with his single image taken from a recent photo trip to Vietnam,” the magazine wrote. “His roadside shot of a Vietnamese woman and child was not planned and came about due to an unforeseen stop.”
Shortly after the announcement of winners, however, photographer Ab Rashid shared behind-the-scenes photos taken around the same time as Ong’s image on Facebook.
Surprisingly, at least eight other photographers are seen capturing the same mother-and-children — suggesting that the winning photo is nearly identical to several others.
While official rules of the contest did not state anything against staged entries, the revelation drew a wave of disappointed comments:
In the wake of criticism, Ong spoke to The Star to explain his side. He maintained that the photo was shot spontaneously.
“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,” Ong said. “We then asked her whether we could take her photo of which she willingly sat down and allowed us to take her photo.”
He added that the mother, who carried two children, did not receive any instruction.
“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.”
Ha Lee, one of the photographers present during the encounter, supported Ong’s statement.
“I want to stress that it was spontaneous and an on-the-spot thing. Not pre-arranged. There was one lady with her two children. It so happened that they passed by and they were curious and friendly.”