The photographer who claims to have shot spectacular photos of snow leopards in the Himalayas has admitted that they are composite images.
Kittiya Pawlowski insists to PetaPixel that she did travel to Nepal where she captured photos of snow leopards.
“I did in fact walk 103 miles to take those images,” the photographer says.
Pawlowski claims that she captured the snow leopard outside Gorak Shep in Nepal. “About a one to two hour walk northeastward; however, my images are edited.”
Pawlowski refused PetaPixel’s requests to see the original, unedited images and admitted that the snow leopard photos are a composite made from “two to four images.”
The 24-year-old American photographer is adamant that she hasn’t misled people and believes she owes no one an apology.
“A photographer should be able to manipulate a photograph any way he/she wants without everyone going berserk,” she says.
“Any other artist in any other medium doesn’t have this problem. Use pencils, pastels, oil paint, acrylic paint, crayons, metal or stone, instead of a camera, to create art, and you can do anything you want and people don’t complain… there’s no reason why photography should be held to a different standard,” she adds.
“All magazines edit their models, changing their bone structure, skin, hair, teeth… why am I the only one that is required to provide RAW images when I’m not even a journalist?”
A Lie That Went Around the World
Pawlowski included a long story on her website about how she captured the images during an epic journey.
“Squinting through my camera’s telephoto lens, I noticed something in the shadow of Mount Pumori. At first I thought it was a rock, but it was exactly what I was looking for,” she writes.
One of her photos is even listed on London’s Saatchi Gallery website where Pawlowski is described as a “photographer that uses visual storytelling to capture the beauty of Earth.” A print of her faked photo is available for £1,305 ($1,566).
But Pawlowski’s images were called into question after a French magazine sensationally and accurately claimed her works are composites.
An article in Alpine Mag raised the alarm after it spoke with renowned wildlife photographer Vincent Munier who has experience photographing snow leopards in Nepal.
“The implausibility of these photos struck me immediately,” Munier tells Alpine Mag.
“I’ve seen leopards going over passes, but they move very fast and are almost impossible to capture. A leopard posing sitting down is highly improbable.”
Munier says the background was too “uncanny” and that the light “doesn’t fit.”
“They are the sort of photos you can spend a lifetime trying to get. I think it’s really bad not to differentiate. Especially, as she accompanies it with a tall story,” he adds.
Apline Mag has pointed out that a widely-shared upright photo from Pawlowski’s series that pertains to show a snow leopard at the bottom of the towering Mount Pumori is heavily edited.
“In reality, this summit which seems immense is a very small satellite south of Pumori, a 7,161-meter summit located just above the famous viewpoint of Kala Patthar,” Apline Mag writes.
“Thanks to the effects of a powerful zoom lens such as the 500mm or 600mm used by Pawlowski, the shots are crushed and the small becomes large. Thanks to Photoshop, the rocks and other surrounding mountains have been erased to make the snowy mountain stand out.”
The publication claims that the snowy and rocky slopes in the shadow area of the image do not exist and have been added.
Denial of Culpability
Pawlowski has insisted to PetaPixel that, “the story behind this series is true, all of the images are taken by me.”
In a statement on her website, she writes: “To clarify, all my images are edited and processed in Photoshop and Lightroom.
“Some images are composites, some are not. Some are only lightly retouched. I am NOT a journalist. I never stated my images were not edited anywhere.”
Pawlowski has also claimed that she donated $787.50 to the Snow Leopard Trust from the sales of her prints. PetaPixel reached out to the charity to confirm whether this is true but did not hear back ahead of publication.
“Photography and making art is my side hobby,” she writes on her website.
“I am simply a 24-year-old girl that has a 9-5 job, likes to take/edit photos, and tries to raise awareness of conservation and help our planet.”
Pawlowski goes on to say that she has “received death threats” and has since deleted her Facebook and Instagram accounts.
Update 12/9: The source of the snow leopard photos has now been discovered. The story can be read here.
Image credits: All images by Kittiya Pawlowski.