Souvid Datta, who was recently awarded Getty Images Editorial Grant, has admitted to plagiarism in his 2014 photoseries ‘In the Shadows of Kolkata’. The issue came to light when PetaPixel, an online portal for photography, pointed out that one of the pictures had a photoshopped image of a woman featured in late documentary filmmaker Mary Ellen Mark’s photograph from 1978.
Datta’s photoseries focused on violence against sex workers in Sonagachi, a red light district in Kolkata which is one of the largest in South Asia.
The picture that sparked the controversy shows a sex worker Radhika and narrates the story of her bond with her mentor, Asma. However in Datta’s photograph, Asma was misrepresented as a woman from one of Mary Ellen Mark’s photos.
The photograph with the plagiarised subject was given a backstory in Datta’s photo series. The picture is captioned thus:
Radhika, 17, in the room of a veteran sex worker, Asma, in Sonagachi (featured dressing in background). The two have grown close over Radhika’s period here; she respects and learns from Asma’s experience and matter of fact, survival attitude, while Asma feels a fondness for Radhika’s unfettered ‘kindness, curiosity’ and innocence. Strong bonds can often form within brothels as girls learn to support each other and find self-empowerment through group assertion and collective experience.
After facing flak from the photojournalist community and with more allegations of plagiarism emerging, Souvid Datta admitted to plagiarism and having doctored the image in an interview to TIME.
The first thing I want to do is take responsibility. 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. Now these images are resurfacing, they threaten to undermine any work I have legitimately pursued since and, crucially, all the trust that the people in my photos, my collaborators and supporting institutions placed in me. I am so profusely sorry for this. I hope to begin making amends.Souvid Datta to TIME
Explaining the 2014 photo, he said that when Asma, a woman who was mentoring her photo’s subject, Radhika, declined to be photographed, he morphed the image of another woman, taken from Mark’s photograph, in her place.
She (Radhika, the subject of the photograph) told me of her past, of her current problems, and also of her mentor: an older woman named Asma, who I met in passing. I photographed Radhika going about her daily activities, but Asma did not want her own photo taken. There was an instance in her room one afternoon, where the two were getting ready together, along with a friend. This moment spoke to their relationship as Radhika had described, but I did not take the image. I waited till after Asma left and shot a few frames of Radhika and her friend alone.Souvid Datta to TIME
Datta is the winner of several grants including the Getty Images Editorial Grant and the Visura Photojournalism Grant. He had also won an Alexia Foundation award.
Soon after the plagiarism charges surfaced, the Foundation removed ‘In the Shadows of Kolkata’ from its website.
The Foundation also released a statement on its Facebook page on Thursday night.
Additionally, on Wednesday, photographer Danielle Volpe had levelled plagiarism charges against Datta in this Facebook post.
All of Datta’s social media accounts – including his Facebook, Twitter and website – have been taken down since the plagiarism allegations surfaced.
Datta also spoke of the pressures of being a freelance photographer in his interview,
I have been affected by these industry pressures more than I would have ever liked to admit; resorting to extreme, foolhardy measures in the insecure hope of standing out.
However, he apologised for his actions by saying,
At the end of the day, no one has forced me to act in a certain way. The burden of responsibility for all these mistakes lies with no one other than myself. I failed terribly and only I can make things right.