PETALING JAYA: Photographer Edwin Ong, who recently won a prestigious photography competition, has refuted allegations that his winning photo was staged.
The Sibu-born photographer won the grand prize of US$120,000 (RM504,000) in the recent 8th Hamdan International Photography Award 2019 (Hipa).
The winning photo documented an "intense humanitarian moment personifying 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".
However, photographer Etienne Bossot claimed that the winning photo was of "an organised staged model" for the shoot.
He said this in an article on his Pics of Asia blog titled "Are you doing it for the photography or for fame?"
Bossot attached a picture of a photography tour group gathered around the Vietnamese mother and her children – who were the subject of the winning entry – which went viral.
Bossot claimed that "the woman seems to pose for them, probably an organised staged model for the photographers who don't want to have to work very hard for their pictures".
He also claimed that the "mother 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".
When contacted by The Star, Ong refuted Bossot's claims that the winning photo was staged and said that the photo was taken spontaneously.
Ong said, "In this trip to Vietnam, we (the photographers) went to the rice field and there was a mother (who had her children with her) that passed by.
"We then asked her whether we could take her photo of which she willingly sat down and allowed us to take her photo.
"We never told her to stand up or sit down.
"Even after taking photos, she was still there and didn't move until we left," he said.
Ha Lee, another Malaysian photographer who was also part of the same group said, "I want to stress that it was spontaneous and an on-the-spot thing. Not pre-arranged.
"There was one lady with her two children. It so happened that they passed by and they were curious and friendly."
"They looked at what we were doing and we asked the lady whether we could take a photo of her with her children. She was very friendly and said okay."
"Edwin submitted his photo and it's very good. Congratulations to him!"
Ong also said that he submitted both the raw and edited files of the winning photo for the competition.
"This is a very big competition where they (the judges) look at the original and edited photos. Only then a prize is given."
Ong said that the news of his win "shows that it is a great time to be a Malaysian!"
"The accusation of the photo being staged does not upset us photographers," said Ong as there were many other photographers who witnessed the picture being taken.