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Souvid Datta Admits to Doctoring and Appropriating Photos


Yesterday, we revealed that award-winning photographer Souvid Datta had published a photo back in 2014 in which a woman had been copied-and-pasted from a 1978 photo by renowned documentary photographer Mary Ellen Mark. Datta today admitted that he had indeed doctored that photo, as well as “appropriating” other photographers’ work as his own.

While Datta did not respond to our requests for comment, he did give an interview with Olivier Laurent of TIME.

Datta, an up-and-coming photographer who has received many top awards and grants in the photo industry in recent years, says the photo in question came about while he was documenting sex industry violence in Kolkata, India. After following a girl into a brothel, Datta was dismayed that the girl’s mentor, Asma, asked not to be photographed.

The photographer, who was around 23 years old at the time, then came across Mary Ellen Mark’s photo back in London at his university, and he decided to Photoshop Mark’s subject into his photo to see what it would have looked like had Asma agreed to be photographed.

The photo from “In the Shadows of Kolkata” by Souvid Datta.
The 1978 photo by the late Mary Ellen Mark.

“The damning mistake came in uploading that image onto my blog,” Datta tells TIME. “I did this without accreditation or acknowledgment that it had been tampered with and 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. In effect, I lied.”

Datta says his original intent wasn’t to profit from his manipulated photo, but instead to develop his post-processing skills. But the lure of “validation and exposure” eventually caused him to publish the photo in an essay with a untruthful caption.

He also admits to TIME that during this dishonest phase of his career, he stitched, cloned, and combined others photos. Datta also shared other photographers work as his own and entered them in photo competitions. But for his latest work “as a serious photojournalist,” Datta says he gave his “utmost to uphold principles of respect, journalistic insight, compassion, perspective and perseverance.”

In 2015, Datta shared two of photographer Daniele Volpe’s photos as his own on Facebook.

Just in the past few years, Datta has received awards and money from organizations such as PDN, the Pulitzer Center, Getty, and Magnum. He’s also scheduled to appear in this year’s reality TV show “Masters of Photography” in the UK.

The Alexia Foundation, which awarded Datta a grant in 2013, says it’s conducting an investigation to determine the best course of action to take. The NPPA also published a statement today.

“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 NPPA writes. “[…] we must all now redouble our efforts to repair the damage that has been done and to renew that trust.”

“I cannot begin to say how much I regret having acted in this abhorrent, short-sighted and irresponsible manner,” Datta tells TIME. “From here on, I do not know what will happen to me or the stories I have followed. I fear above all that they may remain untold.”

“My credibility has been fundamentally challenged, and I understand the serious implications of that in an industry where credibility counts for everything.”