Are you doing it for photography or for fame?

Once again photography competitions are proving us their complete lack of ethics and simple photography knowledge.

This week in Vietnam this image has been going around.

Another classic photo of a photography tour group gathered around one subject, shooting the same image from almost the same angle. The woman seems to pose for them, probably an organized staged model for the photographers who don’t want to have to work very hard for their pictures.

If you know about travel and photography, you surely know that this isn’t the right way to photograph people. I already talked about it extensively here.

The story gets even better, when one of this photography tour participant actually won a photography competiton with an image taken there, of the same women.

The photography competition website states: ” The feelings of a Vietnamese mother whose speech disorder did not prevent her from feeling hopeful and evoking a sense of strength for her children.”

I would personally have written: “The feeling of a Vietnamese mother who is being assaulted by a group of rude photographers who probably didn’t bother to ask her about her life story. Her face evoking a sense of feeling really uncomfortable”.

I am not here to talk about the image quality, nor the overprocessing skills of the photographer. I want to talk about the fact that because this image won this competition, more people will now want to travel to North Vietnam, stage another “poor looking” woman holding a baby and blur the background. Because you know, it worked last time.

The type of photography competitions that we see today are more money making schemes are actually not being judged by people who know about travel and photography. They award a lot of images that they think are pretty but are actually boring images, often copies of images that have been taken before. A professional travel photographer would know that. These competitions do not.

Now, if you combine this “photography competition effect” to the general way of thinking that Humanity is experiencing in the 21st century (“It’s me me me, now now now “), you end up with this situation. People now want to be famous. They don’t want to work hard.

Staging a photo and winning a competition, is THE fastest way to reach this stage. This is the fastest shortcut you can take to obtain fame. Fame that will of course make you become very rich. Because we all know that once you have won a competition, it rains money and National Geographic just can’t get enough of you for their exotic assignments around the world.

Now just ask yourself why you are doing photography. Do you actually enjoy photography or do you want to be a famous photographer. And if you become a famous photographer what then? Selling prints and being rich or ACTUALLY doing something with your images that will have an influence on people around you, and on the rest of the world.

These types of shortcuts people are taking are just wrong because they are anti-creativity. Creativity doesn’t come from trying to be famous, and taking photos that are being popular This is called copying.

Creativity comes from the practice of the craft, working hard on it, failing, failing again, feeling like the worst photographer, and going back again. Years of doing that.

There are no shortcuts for people who are truly trying to improve their craft. It is hard work and takes years to achieve. What we have witnessed in Vietnam this week with this image is the complete opposite. It is the McDonaldization of travel photography through photography tours that cater to people who want to become famous without working too much. And most photography competitions today are supporting that trend.

It is sad, very sad…

Posted in ,

Etienne

Founder of Pics of Asia, Etienne is a teacher with a photography habit.

66 Comments

  1. Jason Row on March 18, 2019 at 2:26 pm

    I agree with you 100%, it’s a sad world we live in as photographers these days. So much so that after thirty years as a freelance travel stock photographer, I put all my energies into shooting video these days. Video requires you to work for your shots, to carry the right gear and know how to use it. That’s far too much work for the wannabee famous photographer types, who want simply to travel to the next Instagram location, shoot the cliche, edit the hell out of it then post it as 1080px jpeg on Facebook, compressed to hell and wait for the likes to roll in.

  2. Albert Low on March 18, 2019 at 2:36 pm

    It’s sad, very sad but it’s true very true. Especially the over processed part.

  3. hipa judge on March 18, 2019 at 3:43 pm

    are you jelous bro?

    • Etienne on April 30, 2019 at 4:54 pm

      Yes Bro, so much!

  4. Luis on March 18, 2019 at 3:48 pm

    well said.

  5. Navneet Chahal on March 18, 2019 at 4:16 pm

    I couldn’t agree more.

  6. Jonathan Ollero on March 18, 2019 at 4:32 pm

    Very well said..

  7. Sachin R Gawade on March 18, 2019 at 4:48 pm

    It is truth of Photography nowdays, people don’t want to ask what subject is feeling pain, emotions while any photography event or photowalk. Such type of articles will help me to improve as first we need to think that we are capturing click of humans, humans are famous for emotions. Many photographer are visiting such slum areas to gain fame in their photography.

  8. Ajmal on March 18, 2019 at 4:49 pm

    I have been one in the spectaculars when this being awarded as grand price winner in hipae at Dubai Opera house. Now feeling ridiculous and ashamed.

  9. Bob Chiu on March 18, 2019 at 5:03 pm

    Grear article…couldn’t agree more…that was the main reason I stop joining these kind of photo tour couple years ago…if one did not work hard in getting the images, it just isn’t right…

    • Etienne on April 30, 2019 at 4:54 pm

      It is a way to see it. Not the easy way, but the creative way. Thanks!

  10. Massimo Pacifico on March 18, 2019 at 5:07 pm

    It is not only sad, it is a shame!

  11. Patrick T. S. Tan on March 18, 2019 at 5:21 pm

    Truthfully Agree..Well Saying……

  12. Mai Pham on March 18, 2019 at 5:58 pm

    Thanks, great article, indeed.

  13. Vadgama suresh on March 18, 2019 at 6:08 pm

    Very true. Nowadays no one interested to work hard, always try to find short cut.

  14. Gilbert MARTIN-GUILLOU on March 18, 2019 at 6:30 pm

    Salut, si tu es le Étienne auquel je pense et que j’ai vu à Hoi An (que j’ai croisé tu étais avec un groupe de touristes)
    Je me permets de te féliciter pour ta publication. Les Vietnamiens, n’étaient jusqu’à il a quelques année qu’amateurs de sunset et sunrise. C’est Réhan ayant fait fortune avec son livre qui les a attiré vers ce genre de mise scène. Jusqu’à présent ils avaient un peu honte de photographier les “pauvres” ethnies de leur pays. Maintenant pour l’attrait du gain, ils s’y lance n’importe comment. Je suis entièrement d’accord avec toi ils ne savent pas ce qu’est le vrai reportage et j’ai c’est dommage mais honte pour eux.

    • Belle on March 22, 2019 at 12:27 am

      Wholeheartedly agree!

  15. Kan Sieu on March 18, 2019 at 6:45 pm

    I realise many don’t know the meaning of “living”, they just take photos, be it arranged for group shooting, or for perfection, but lives out there may be another matter. this type of arranged photography, should not be categorized as “living”, rather, model photography.

    • Etienne on April 30, 2019 at 4:53 pm

      yes, or fashion photography!

  16. Huage Shang on March 18, 2019 at 7:00 pm

    Can I translate your article into Chinese?

  17. dhekamardanus on March 18, 2019 at 9:48 pm

    well said man,, have been thinking bout this phenomenon for past few days.. 👍🏻

  18. Kerivel Christophe on March 18, 2019 at 10:12 pm

    Bonjour,
    enfin un article là-dessus, tu as mille fois raison, les photographies du Vietnam par les vietnamiens c’ est devenu du grand n’ importe quoi surtout dans
    la région de Sapa. Il y au VN une course à l’ armement, qui aura le dernier (gros) modèle d’ appareil au détriment de la créativité.
    Pour info j’ ai trouvé votre article sur le site vietnamien TINHTE.VN.
    cordialement.

    • Etienne on April 30, 2019 at 4:49 pm

      Merci Christophe!

  19. Anon on March 19, 2019 at 8:56 am

    Ain’t you just sour pus just because you didn’t win it yourself?

    • Etienne on April 30, 2019 at 4:48 pm

      Arrr you got me! I should have win this competition, too bad I didn’t enter…. 😉

  20. Alastair McNaughton on March 19, 2019 at 9:06 am

    So well said.With mass tourism these days & so many photo tours on offer,I’m disillusioned to the core.I’ve been a photographer for 40 years & if I’m working on a project with tribal/nomadic people I spend weeks with them (sometimes months), building trust & friendship before I even take my first shot.

    • Etienne on April 30, 2019 at 4:48 pm

      Thanks for that. Obviously, we can’t all spend so much time with our subjects, but basic conversation and exchange are necessary for us to take better images and tell better stories. This will also help give back to our subjects.

  21. Arlene on March 19, 2019 at 9:08 am

    💯 True, I salute for you Sir

  22. David Z on March 19, 2019 at 10:21 am

    Hi Etienne,

    You are right to speak up against such incidents!

    I myself started with photojournalism, worked with news and magazine and have my own sites. I even spent time up in Tibet alone walking the mountains, been through war zone in Jerusalem. The kind of photographers I like to learn from – Magnum Photos – and we know where they’ve been for the real work and interview.

    Over the years I walked away from a lot of “hype and entertaining” photo competition, even from big names organizer like Nikon, Sony, etc … the world will know some of these photographers in the competition were exposed to do edit their photo to add things when they should not ! It’s already a known fact these kind of competition are there for commercial purpose to promote the suppliers more then the spirit and value of real life photo-journalism

    A lot of these competition have become playground of rich people who got spare cash to buy expensive gears and starts calling themselves “Professional”.

    The whole issues about this winning photo of the Vietnamese mother have become a cynical joke and insult against the local Vietnamese! I mean now the whole world have seen it – there was in fact a tour group of photographers pointing their big lenses at her! and the winning photographer dare to insist to the local newspaper “The Star” that the photo was taken spontaneously.

    I hope the Vietnamese should sue.

    I think this Vietnamese mother should be the one receiving the US$120,000 award!

    The organizer Hamdan International Photography Award 2019 (HIPA) should do the right thing by protecting these poor villages from being exploited!

    I want to suggest a petition, these poor villages who’ve been exploited should be receiving the case award!

    Best regards

    David

    • Etienne on March 20, 2019 at 11:32 am

      David, thanks for your comment. As much as I agree with the idea, my goal is to try and educate photographers about ethics when doing travel photography. There will always be greedy photography tour companies ready to take people on a full-on exploitation photo tour, anywhere around the world, in order to make money. But if the photographers know that something is wrong here, these people won’t survive in the business.

  23. […] on Monday (19th March), a submit on photographer Etienne Bossot’s weblog, “Pics of Asia“, which accused the Malaysian photographer of staging his award-winning picture, surfaced […]

  24. […] Refuting these “unplanned” claims is Street Photo BD Magazine founder Ab Rashid, who shared behind-the-scenes photos of the award-winning image on Facebook, which show a number of photographers snapping the same image. “Another classic photo of a photography tour group gathered around one subject, shooting the same image from almost the same angle,” reported PicsofAsia.com.  […]

  25. […] Refuting these “unplanned” claims is Street Photo BD Magazine founder Ab Rashid, who shared behind-the-scenes photos of the award-winning image on Facebook, which show a number of photographers snapping the same image. “Another classic photo of a photography tour group gathered around one subject, shooting the same image from almost the same angle,” reported PicsofAsia.com.  […]

  26. John Sh on March 19, 2019 at 11:53 am

    Not being a French speaker, one can only hope the above comment reads something like ” I totally agree with your comments and feel the ‘Tour” operators should disclose how much the poor woman was paid to pose for this group fiasco. As for the ‘competition’ organisers / judges they should be able to pick a highly doctored image and reject it. I understand there are many competitions out there where one has to pay to enter. As such these people can afford to dole out ‘awards’ for rubbish.
    Competitions run by ‘National Photographic Associations’ are generally free to enter and your ‘prize’ is international recognition. They also engage judges who know their stuff.
    I applaud you for bringing this to our attention.

  27. Miji on March 19, 2019 at 11:54 am

    Shame on photographer that have such a mindset!!

    • Etienne on March 20, 2019 at 11:23 am

      The world needs education about ethics and respect. It is as simple as that.

  28. Elise on March 19, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    With a bunch of photographer taking pictures and a woman posing for it. Is that spontaneous photography? Lol..

    • Etienne on March 20, 2019 at 11:23 am

      It is indeed very dubious…

  29. Nancy Brandt on March 19, 2019 at 1:43 pm

    Etienne, thank you for posting this. There is a fine line between making images that tell an important story and inform for good and making images that are just a reflection of the photographer’s (often) “white gaze.” The question must always be: Why Am I Doing It?

  30. Nicos on March 19, 2019 at 2:24 pm

    Dear Etienne, greetings from Cyprus.

    I read your very interesting article “Are you doing it for photography or for fame?” and would be glad if you could get in touch whenever possible.

    I am editing the FIAP News, now working on no 7, for the International Federation of Photographic Art and my main aim is to enrich its contents by presenting articles, critiques etc, relevant to photography and wonder whether I can have your contribution. This, surely, will depend on the Directory Board of FIAP and hope I will get their blessing. Back issues of FIAP News can be found in the website http://www.fiap.net.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Nicos Karanikis, HonEFIAP
    Director, FIAP Media Relations Service
    Hon. President, Cyprus Photographic Society

    • Etienne on March 20, 2019 at 11:30 am

      Thanks, Nicos, I would be happy to share my thoughts on the matter.

  31. […] Refuting these “unplanned” claims is Street Photo BD Magazine founder Ab Rashid, who shared behind-the-scenes photos of the award-winning image on Facebook, which show a number of photographers snapping the same image. “Another classic photo of a photography tour group gathered around one subject, shooting the same image from almost the same angle,” reported PicsofAsia.com.  […]

  32. Jürgen Warschun on March 19, 2019 at 9:52 pm

    Apart from the fact that it’s a fake photograph:
    It’s not a great photograph at all. Very dull light, a very boring point of view.

    • Etienne on March 20, 2019 at 11:09 am

      It is indeed, but not our current topic. My goal isn’t to talk about the image or the photographer, but the whole topic about staging images.

  33. […] Pics of Asia wrote about the photo: “Another classic photo of a photography tour group gathered around one subject, shooting the same image from almost the same angle. […]

  34. […] New circumstances do not violate the HIPA rules. This is a competition that focuses not on journalistic work, but on photography in principle. However, as Petapixel emphasizes , many professional photographers may be unhappy that one of several similar images took a prize of 120 thousand dollars. “We all know that winning the competition not only brings a lot of money, but National Geographic also makes you sleepy with exotic work all over the world,” the Pics of Asia community noted . […]

  35. […] Pics of Asia wrote about the photo: “Another classic photo of a photography tour group gathered around one subject, shooting the same image from almost the same angle. […]

  36. […] PicsofAsia writes, “Staging a photo and winning a competition, is THE fastest way to reach this stage…This is the fastest shortcut you can take to obtain fame. Fame that will of course make you become very rich. Because we all know that once you have won a competition, it rains money and National Geographic just can’t get enough of you for their exotic assignments around the world…It is sad, very sad…” […]

  37. […] tour group gathered around one subject, shooting the same image from almost the same angle,” writespicsofasia.Is this type of staged photo worthy of a prestigious photo prize?Yes, alwaysYes, sometimesNo, […]

  38. Danial on March 20, 2019 at 11:43 am

    It has finally come to this and my fear is this kind of “competition” is only the beginning.

  39. […] “Another classic photo of a photography tour group gathered around one subject, shooting the same image from almost the same angle,” writes picsofasia. […]

  40. […] Picsofasia described the image as a “classic” example of a photography tour group crowding around a particular subject and shooting the same image from the same angle. Ong, however, did not violate any of the contest’s rules as it wasn’t a photojournalism contest, just a general photography award. Nevertheless, the winning entry has certainly left a bitter taste in many professional photographers’ mouths. […]

  41. Deborah Schow on March 20, 2019 at 11:27 pm

    Of course this contest has zero credibility, look who the sponsor is, “Under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai . Depending on the way you look at it the entrant had the nerve or the savvy to enter a staged photograph like this is like entering a paint-by-number canvas into an art contest,
    It sickens me that real photographers, the kind who don’t just point and shoot where they are told and who desperately need the prize money to buy equipment and support themselves are excluded here while rich men who can afford this kind of tourism are rewarded. The contestant, I won’t call him a photographer should be made to give back the prize and the prize money, but as this contest is less about art and more about the rich giving to the rich who can afford this type of canned tourism I doubt that will happen. Shame on His Highness and all involved here.

  42. Rui Pires on March 21, 2019 at 2:34 am

    Dear Ettiene, nice found this website due this fuzz about HIPA, I will follow it in future. I participated in this competition since they created it at 2011 and I know very well how this works. The invited judges choose from 50 or 100 photographs already choosen by organization from undred thousads. Judges have no way to know the name of the photographer in order to make questions. So, it´s normal this kind of results happens, if judges don´t know the reality of what is photography in Asia. Moral and ethics do not exist, people just buy cameras without never read a book in their life. Many have no culture, many are just young photographer trying to pop-up between millions, they do not care about how they get the photographs, or with the humans in front of the lens. As you know, this has generated a workshop industry with people making lots of money at the expense of these “easy” photographers, and also the natives have seen in this reality a way to earn some money to eat. Some years ago I was curator at http://www.1x.com and one day we received a lot of photographs from different photographers, all from Philippines. The photos seemed to be taken inside a prison, naked bodies, dirty, starved, with feces scattered everywhere. I thought it was strange and I contacted one of the photographers asking him where the photos had been made. He replied that he had paid $ 200 to attend a workshop for photographers inside a psychiatric hospital in Manila, and the person that organized the workshop give a fee the hospital director to let them in for an hour. This people have no soul and never will be photographers. Well, we are in XXI century, this is the way things work in this planet and the old photographers with formation, ethics and morality are on the verge of extinction. It´s what I teach every single day to all my students of cultural anthropology, history and documentary
    photography. To end this, forget HIPA, This happens in most of photography competitions.
    I have participated in HIPA since 2011 and I gave up a few years ago, when, being prohibited, a completely manipulated and edited photograph received the first prize. Manipulation of the human element was evident to an anthropologist, but HIPA denied it. It’s over for me.
    Best regards.

    Rui

    • Etienne on April 30, 2019 at 4:45 pm

      Thanks a lot for your feedback Rui, I am just amazed at what I have just read…. basic human respect and ethics is apparently not a shared Human value around this world. 🙁 More reason for us to talk about it and spread the word.

  43. rajat ghosh on March 21, 2019 at 3:19 pm

    Most press junkets are like this,
    you teach students in same way, whats to stop a student of your to enter an image in a competition
    its just coincidence that this pict was shot at this venue,
    the story and thought coincided, lets be happy for the photographer who shot this image without being judging others ,

    Rajat Ghosh

    • Etienne on April 30, 2019 at 4:42 pm

      Rajat, we are not here to discuss the happiness of people winning photography competitions, but the quality of the image and the process of getting such images. As a teacher, I am expressing my opinion because I believe it will help others.

  44. […] the recent polemics surrounding a certain image that won a photography competition this week, I feel like we need to […]

  45. Beef on March 24, 2019 at 2:47 pm

    You speak the truth.

  46. Bobo on March 24, 2019 at 3:42 pm

    I find it surprising (very surprising) actually that the photo got through HIPA.
    HIPA requires a model release but it is difficult to verify a fake.
    This sort of thing happens everywhere not just Asia though a whole horde of photographers are more common there.

    • Etienne on March 28, 2019 at 2:34 pm

      The model release is for another story…. there is no way a travel photographer can get a model release from the people they photograph. It is just not doable.

  47. […] the recent polemics surrounding a certain image that won a photography competition this week, I feel like we need to […]

  48. Eloy on May 3, 2019 at 6:01 am

    Wait wait… So you are talking about the “circus” created about these kind of tours where none respect the local people, where a bunch of tourist takes photos like automic gun, and where, locas are used as models probably for nothing or in the best case for a few coins.

    But if you google: http://www.picofasia.com you realise that this a Photography Tour Company!

    So what’s is point of this post?
    Very disappointed with this!

    • Etienne on May 4, 2019 at 1:17 pm

      The point of this post is to talk about the ethics of travel photography, and how to approach people to take their pictures. Some tours are, in our opinion, doing it wrong. Some other tours are doing it right. Not all photography tours are the same of course.

Leave a Comment