$120,000 Grand Prize winning photo captures controversy

By Hoang Nguyen, Bao Lam   March 20, 2019 | 12:33 pm GMT+7

The photographer’s claim of having stumbled upon a moment unplanned has failed to stand up to scrutiny.

The photo, titled Mother’s Hopetaken by Malaysian Edwin Ong Wee Kee, won Grand Prize at the Hamdan International Photography Award (HIPA) this year. But controversy erupted after the result was announced, with evidence surfacing that the photo might have been staged.

Another photographer, Ab Rashid, shared on his Facebook page a behind-the-scenes photo with the same characters in the photo, the ethnic minority mother and her two children. Rashid’s photo showed many lensmen taking pictures at the same time.

Kee took the photo, which captures a H’Mong mother with a speech disorder holding her children, during a recent trip to Vietnam's northern Yen Bai Province. 

The behind-the-scenes photo, showing many photographers taking multiple shots of the ethnic minority mother and her children. Photo courstesy of Ab Rashid. 

The behind-the-scenes photo, showing many photographers taking multiple shots of the ethnic minority mother and her children. Photo courstesy of Ab Rashid. 

Photography websites Petapixel and Picofacia also weighed in on the award, both commenting on Rashid's exposure.

"As you can see, a crowd of photographers was apparently gathered around the mother at the same time as Kee, meaning his photo was just one of a large number of nearly identical photos that emerged from the portrait session," Petapixel noted.

Picsofasia was scathing in its criticism. "Another classic photo of a photography tour group gathered around one subject, shooting the same image from almost the same angle. The woman seems to pose for them, probably an organized staged model for the photographers who don’t want to have to work very hard for their pictures," it wrote.

HIPA regulations were not broken in this situation since it was general photography contest. But one of many similar photos winning a lot of money has angered many photographers, critics noted.

With the annual total prize money of $450,000, HIPA offers the largest prize money among photography awards in the world. It is also one of the most inclusive photography awards, charging no fees and having no entry barriers including age, photographic status, gender and nationality.

 
 
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