Photo Feedback

Given all the publicity about a number of photo awards in recent months, I found it interesting to read how one particular winner was given a hard time by people who read something different into his photograph.

As reported on PetaPixel by Michael Zhang, Edwin Ong Wee Kee won the $120,000 first prize in the Hamdan International Photography Award. See link here. The photo, which you can see cropped above on the left, depicted a mother and children with nice lighting and a non-descript background. It's a good photograph. Now, add in the theme 'Hope' and suddenly, as viewers and judges, we can begin to read in all sorts of stories and backgrounds to the mother's expression.

So, why the controversy? Some viewers didn't like how the photo was taken! They don't seem to be complaining about the photo itself, just the way it was captured.

The photo was taken on a photo tour. If you were one of the other photographers on this tour with a better angle and a better shot, wouldn't you be dark for not entering the competition!

The photo above right shows a behind-the-scenes view - and this is the problem for some viewers. Suddenly when the photograph is put into context, it loses its magic. Rather than the photographer trekking for weeks to a remote settlement and discovering this woman living in hope under a banyan tree, they see a group of photographers crowded around someone who is acting as a model. Perhaps she was 'hoping' for a tip?

This is the challenge we all have as photographers. The entrant stated that the photo was 'unexpected and unplanned' - and I can understand that. Driving along the road in Vietnam, you stop the bus, pile out and see what happens. A local woman sees the bus by the side of the road and walks up to see what's happening. The tour guide has a chat, the woman sits down to have her photograph taken and Edwin takes a great shot, winning $120,000.

We should all be congratulating Edwin on his good fortune. Good on you Edwin!

Instead, there is a part of social media who believes Edwin should have struggled a bit more for his win. I haven't read any criticism of the photograph itself, just the circumstances in which it was taken. Sorry, but if these people just read a few biographies of some of the world's famous photographers and photojournalists, this is exactly how photos come about - taking advantage of the circumstances as presented. (And no, the famous photojournalists probably weren't on a photo tour, but the way the press get taken around conflict zones these days, it's not always much different.)

My summation is that people have seen the title of the awards (hope), looked at the winning photo and then read into it their own story. This is the mark of a good photographer and a good photo. Then when they find out the true circumstances, they feel let down, fooled and even cheated. Whose fault is that?

I don't know where that leaves me, except that in life, it doesn't matter what you do or what your intentions, there will always be an element in society who disapproves. Sometimes this disapproval is warranted, generally it is not and I guess as we mature in a world of digital publishing, we will eventually learn to be more discerning about whom we listen to.

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