The award-winning British Indian photographer Souvid Datta has admitted to photoshopping images and using copyrighted material of other photographers after a furore about a photo story on Calcutta’s red light district.
Datta, a widely-hailed talent who has won countless awards and worked for the likes of The Guardian, was forced to pull down his Social Media accounts and website on Thursday after the photography website PetaPixel revealed that Datta had used an image by the renowned American photographer Mary Ellen Mark.
The image in question was taken by Mark in the late 1970’s and shows a group of transvestites in a Mumbai slum.
Petapixel quoted a social worker, Shreya Bhat, who said that a part of that photograph had been used by Datta in his 2014 project ‘In the Shadows of Kolkata’, which document the sexual violence among sex workers and children in Kolkata’s Sonagachi red light district.
The claim caused outrage within the photography community with many calling for those organizations which had given Datta awards and grants – including the likes of Getty Images and Magnum Photos – to withdraw their support for the photographer.
Late on Thursday, Datta admitted to Time magazine that the photograph in question had been doctored and that he took full responsibility.
“The first thing I want to do is take responsibility. In 2013-15 – when I was 22 or 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”, Datta said.
He also confessed that there are other images from the Kolkata project that were altered while a number of others had been “appropriated” from fellow photographers.
Datta admitted that as he grew in stature as a photojournalist and became feted by the world’s biggest news organizations, he felt “ashamed” and “embarrassed” at what he had done but “suppressed it in the foolish hope that those mistakes would fade from memory”.
Datta insisted that the work he had done since – particularly relating to child sex trafficking, which was inspired by his visit to Sonagachi – had been done upholding the “principles of respect, journalistic insight, compassion, perspective and perseverance”.
He also said that he was reaching out to those who had been affected by the manipulation.
“I am currently in the process of reaching out to the people involved in my stories. Many are friends and I owe each person I have ever shot a debt for having shared their time, their testimonies and parts of their lives with me. I must now be clear about my wrongdoings and the potential damage to their testimonies that these mistakes will cause. For those whose stories remain to be published, I stand deeply committed to getting these seen as promised”, Datta said.