Allegedly Posed “Spontaneous” Photo Wins $120K


Photo contests and controversies go together like peanut butter and jelly.

But when huge sums of money are involved, it can sometimes be justified – especially if a photograph isn’t what it claims to be.

Image by Thu Ngo

The renowned Hamdan International Photography Award (HIPA) awards were announced for 2019 and among the winners was Malaysian photographer Edwin Ong Wee Kee whose picture of a mother in Vietnam encapsulated the annual theme which was “Hope.”

Yet, Street Photo BD Magazine founder and fellow photographer Ab Rashid alleges that Edwin Ong Wee Kee’s photo wasn’t exactly as spontaneous as he described according to PetaPixel.

Discussing his winning photo, the Malaysian photographer described it as “spontaneous” and which HIPA said “[H]is photo documented an intense humanitarian moment,” HIPA writes. “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.

Subsequent updates to PetaPixel‘s article has revealed that more sources have come forward, including the mother featured in the photo, who claim that the woman in the photo agreed to pose for pictures with the gathered tourists.

Needless to say, this has not gone over well with Kee’s peers in the photography world. Aside from being disingenuous, some people see it as an attempted shortcut at fame and fortune in the photography world.

PicsofAsia writes, “Staging a photo and winning a competition, is THE fastest way to reach this stage…This is the fastest shortcut you can take to obtain fame. Fame that will of course make you become very rich. Because we all know that once you have won a competition, it rains money and National Geographic just can’t get enough of you for their exotic assignments around the world…It is sad, very sad…”

And, as PetaPixel points out, no particular contest rule was violated if the photo was posed.

Still, it is quite unfortunate that people choose to market a posed photo as a spontaneous capture.

You can view the winning photo here. You can view Ab Rashid's picture of the photo session here.

As always, let us know what you think in the comments below.

About Author

Kehl is our staff photography news writer since 2017 and has over a decade of experience in online media and publishing and you can get to know him better here and follow him on Insta.

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