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What We Learned This Week: A Photographer Admits to a "Foolish" Error of Judgment

By David Schonauer   Wednesday May 10, 2017


“The first thing I want to do is take responsibility.”

So said photographer Souvid Datta in an interview with Time LightBox, after it was discovered that Datta had doctored a 2013 photo shot at a brothel near Kolkata, India, by cloning into it a subject from an iconic image by Mary Ellen Mark. Datta admitted the act and also confessed to manipulating other photos from colleagues like Daniele Volpe, Hazel Thompson and Raul Iran.

Until this week, noted Time, Datta's "breakthrough" work in the Kolkata brothels had made him a rising star in photojournalism: He won a Getty Images Editorial Grant, an Alexia Foundation award, and the Visura Photojournalism Grant, all over the course of a three-year career. This week he faced outrage from a photo community that, as Time later noted, has been doing some soul-searching.

“The recent scandal involving photographer Souvid Datta brings to light the damage that can be done when visual journalists go about their work lacking a strong ethical foundation,” noted the National Press Photographers Association, which re-published its own code of ethical conduct after the disclosures about Datta. The NPPA added, “We believe what Datta did is inexcusable and not only betrays the trust that others placed in him but in an age of ‘fake news’ undermines the public trust in our profession.”

The discovery of Datta’s malfeasance, initially reported by PetaPixel, set off a cascade of fact checking —  PDN  noted that it was reviewing work that earned Datta a spot in the 2017 PDN 30. Visura also launched an investigation.

Datta also came in for severe criticism for his image of a sex-trafficked 16-year-old girl, seen with a man on top of her performing sex. Writing in The New York Times’s Lens blog, photojournalist Nina Berman noted that the man was committing rape.

“In his quest to capture the victim’s facial expression — to better reveal her pain, he said — [Datta] stood over the rapist, which added another dimension of domination to the image,” wrote Berman.

NPPA President Melissa Lyttle also denounced Datta  for making the photograph. “[A] child can’t make the decision to be a sex worker. It’s human trafficking. It’s rape. It’s wrong. By being there and observing it, you are a complicit bystander approving the act, unless you choose to do something about it,” she wrote.

Datta entered the image in the 2017 Magnum Photography Awards organized by LensCulture, which later used the photograph to promote the contest. LensCulture has apologized for posting the image.

Why did Datta, an emerging star photographer, do what he did? In his interview with Time, he notes that the work was made before he came know what the responsibilities of being a photojournalist entail. “Crucially, this was all done without the consideration of factual accuracy, ethical representation and journalistic responsibility that I came to learn of properly in the years to come,” he said. “I didn’t understand what a photojournalist was for a long time, let alone the weight of trying to assume that title.”

Berman looked at the broader implication of Datta’s photographs, asking why his photographs of Kolkata brothels was so appealing to contest and grant juries.

“Why are stories of vulnerable and suffering women and girls, often with pleading or blank expressions and seen in faraway lands, praised and rewarded?” she wrote.

Here are some  of the other photo stories we spotlighted this week:

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1. The Man Who Photographs Manhattan's Million-Dollar Views


Mike Tauber knows what makes for a fabulous view of Manhattan: Location, location, location. Tauber makes his living shooting luxury New York City homes and apartments for architects, real-estate developers and brokers — places that often come with magnificent views of the city and the surrounding landscapes. Now he has released a book called Vista Manhattan: Views from New York City's Finest Residences. His images of million-dollar vistas show not only how the wealthy live, but what they see, we noted.


2. The Story Behind an Army Photographer's Last Shot


Nearly four years after a U.S. Army combat photographer was killed during a training exercise with Afghan forces, the military has released the image she took in the moments before she died. Time LightBox  told the story behind the photo shot by Spc. Hilda I. Clayton, a “visual information specialist” who was photographing an Afghan National Army "mortar validation exercise" in the eastern Laghman Province when a mortar tube accidentally exploded. Share your thoughts at our Facebook page.


3.  Petra Collins Gets Personal


Petra Collins has been busy of late, debuting a video for Gucci eyewear and starring as Botticelli’s Venus in an Adidas Originals video. Now she has also opened her first solo show in her native Toronto for the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival. The work, as Dazed  noted, considers her own personal journey in life, from intimate moments with family members to her exploration of her maternal homeland in Budapest. AnOther talked to Collins about the personal nature of the exhibition.


4. Marvin Newman's Bright Lights and Big City


At age 89, photographer Marvin Newman  is publishing his first monograph: Newman has been photographing his native New York and other cities since the 1940s in bright, vibrant color, but while his work has been appreciated by collectors for years, it’s only now becoming widely known, noted the British Journal of Photography. The new book, City of Lights, from Taschen, brings together 170 pictures shot from the late 1940s through to the early 1980s. The work, added It’s Nice That, captures the chaos and energy of NYC.


5. Paying Tribute to an Iraqi “Fixer” Who Gave His Life for Journalism

 

Once, Fakher Haider managed an Iraqi fertilizer company. But when war came to his country he found life’s purpose as a “fixer,” helping journalists who’d come to his country. Matt Moyer, who covered Iraq for The New York Times and National Geographic, was one of them. “Guide, interpreter, security consultant, lifeline research assistant, friend. Fakher was all these things. But most of all he was brave,” Moyer notes in a new short film paying tribute to Haider, who gave his own life for his work. We featured  Moyer’s behind-the-scenes story.
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At top: From Marvin Newman

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