Award-winning photographer Souvid Datta came under fire this week for doctoring a 1978 image taken by renowned documentary photojournalist Mary Ellen Mark and cloning out its subject to his own. It turns out it wasn’t the only picture he plagiarized. Speaking for the first time since the so-called Souvid Datta photo scandal broke, the London-based photographer admitted that there were actually multiple instances where he infringed on other people’s work.
“In 2013-15, [when I was] aged 22-24, I foolishly doctored images, inexcusably lied about others’ work being my own and then buried these wrongdoings in the years that followed,” he said in an interview with Time. The scandal is apparently threatening to undermine his credibility now as a photographer and he is deeply sorry for what his actions which he called a “damning mistake.”
Souvid Datta Photo Scandal
News of his plagiarism went public after Shreya Bhat of Bangalore, India, noticed something off and unnatural in one of his shots (pictured above) from his series “In the Shadows of Kolkata.” The collection in question depicted the cycle of sexual violence among adults and children in Sonagachi, Kolkata, India.
“Something was strange and it honestly did not take me long to figure that a part of the image had been Photoshopped out of Mary Ellen Mark’s work,” Bhat said. “You can see for yourself how neatly (or not) he has managed to pick the lady in the backdrop off Mary’s legendary work and claimed it as a part of his own composition.”
Datta said the edited person was supposed to be Asma, a mentor of a young girl from a brothel who refused to be photographed. While learning post-production techniques, he came across Mark’s work and spotted a subject who resembled the mentor. In an attempt to recreate the photo he couldn’t make in reality, he combined the image with his own.
The Struggles of a Freelancer
The disgraced photographer, who was around 23 that time, further explained it was supposed to be just a post-processing experiment. However, “validation and exposure” lured him to upload to his blog without acknowledgment that it included elements of Mark’s image. “I wrote the caption as if Asma herself was in this image, not a woman from someone else’s work,” Datta added. “In effect, I lied.”
He admitted several of his work from 2012 to 2013 underwent stitching and cloning. Datta also revealed he “appropriated photos” from colleagues like Daniele Volpe, Hazel Thompson and Raul Irani without accreditation. He even entered some of them in photo competitions.
“I cannot begin to say how much I regret having acted in this abhorrent, short-sighted and irresponsible manner,” he told the publication. “To think that mistakes like these would ever go unnoticed is a harsh lesson I am learning the dire truth of now.
Respect to Integrity and Ethics
Although he still struggles as a freelancer today, he did assure that he gave his “utmost to uphold principles of respect, journalistic insight, compassion, perspective and perseverance” in his latest work as “a serious photojournalist.”
These past few years, Datta was honored by organizations including PDN, the Pulitzer Center, Getty, and Magnum. He has also booked an appearance at this year’s reality TV show Masters of Photography in the UK. The aforementioned have yet to comment on the Souvid Datta photo scandal. However, the Alexia Foundation, which awarded him a grant in 2013, is launching an investigation to determine the best course of action to take.
The NPPA also released a statement today, calling his deed “inexcusable.” It vowed to “redouble” the efforts to repair the damage that has been done. Datta claims he understands the serious implications of the industry where “credibility counts for everything.”