Souvid Datta Caught Staging Photo in ‘Master of Photography’ Finals

Controversy-stricken photographer Souvid Datta has raised some photographers’ eyebrows again, this time on the European reality TV photo competition Master of Photography. In the final round of the contest, Datta admitted to staging one of the photos when questioned by the judges.

Datta sparked a firestorm of controversy in the photojournalism community earlier this year when we reported that one of his photos documenting Indian sex workers contained a woman copied and pasted from a photo by renowned photographer Mary Ellen Mark. Datta soon admitted to manipulating a number of photos in his career, leading to at least half a dozen organizations rescinding awards and grants previously given to Datta.

At the time, Datta was already one of the 12 contestants in the second season of Sky Arts’ show Master of Photography, which awards a grand prize of €150,000 (~$175,000). Since the filming of the show had already been completed, the producers added a note to Datta’s profile page that reads:

Since filming on Master of Photography was completed, Souvid Datta has admitted in an interview with Time that he dishonestly doctored and appropriated images in the past. Souvid was selected to take part in our programme on the basis of a portfolio of work he submitted as his own in October 2016, and our producers are satisfied that these works were original.

However, Master of Photography is a celebration of originality and authenticity in photography, and Souvid’s behaviour is in total opposition the values that the programme seeks to promote. Whilst filming on the series is now complete we are currently looking at how we reflect this matter on the programme.

Datta is a skilled photographer, and his talents carried him into the finals of the competition, where he was one of just 4 photographers remaining. The final challenge was titled “Human Landscape,” and the photographers were tasked with visiting an indigenous community and capturing the members’ lifestyle and traditions. The goal was to create “meaningful pictures of European people and their diverse environments.”

Steve McCurry was the guest photographer and adviser in the final round:

For his project, Datta decided to document a tribesman named Erik who lives in a frigid environment.

“My story was focused on this one character, Erik, I tried to cover all the important aspects of his life,” Datta writes. “And it’s about his isolation. Kind of a very stark landscape.”

Photos of Erik in Datta’s series.

One of the photos Datta submitted as part of his series showed a man trekking through snow at night with a headlamp:

Photo by Souvid Datta/Masters of Photography.

While standing before the judges, Datta was asked by a judge about whether all his photos showed the same subject. To the judges’ surprise, Datta revealed that the subject in this particular photo was actually himself. Here’s a short clip of the exchange shared with us by a reader:

“Is it the same subject in each picture?,” asks judge Caroline Hunter, picture editor of The Guardian Weekend magazine.

“Um… It’s not,” Datta responds. “I wanted to get a shot using the northern lights in the last shot. By that point, my subject had gone back and there was no one around. And his torchlight left over… that’s me in the picture.”

“You kind of led us to believe it was more reportage,” responds judge and American documentary photojournalist Darcy Padilla. “And in all of this, you’re telling me that you’re taking time to set up and think this through. Well, I think you could have done some more thinking.”

The photo in the episode’s gallery makes no mention that it’s Datta in the shot and not Erik.

Despite Datta’s admission, he survived to remain in the final 3 contestants. In the end, 51-year-old British photographer Gillian Allard was crowned the winner of Master of Photography Season 2.

Since his Mary Ellen Mark scandal, Datta has taken steps to distance himself from the photojournalism community. His short bio on Facebook now reads: “NOT a journalist. Amateur nomad. Visuals man. Lover of the world.”