The Strange Case of Souvid Datta

A few days ago I posted about the controversy over the use of a picture of child prostitution being used to promote a Magnum photo contest on the web site Lensculture, brought to my notice in a post on the Duckrabbit blog.

Since then more has appeared about the photographer concerned, with Petapixel posting Photographer Souvid Datta Appears to Have Plagiarized Mary Ellen Mark, a story which came to light after Shreya Bhat of Bangalore, India read a report in Petapixel, who like me had picked up and commented on the original post from Duckrabbit.

Bhat is a great fan of photographer Mary Ellen Mark, and also very familiar with the subject matter and in 2014 was a social worker in the Indian red-light district of Sonagachi. So she had a great interest when in 2014 the Huffington Post published a feature on Dattas’s higly acclaimed series documenting sexual violence among sex workers and children in that Indian red light district, ‘In the Shadows of Kolkata‘. She noticed that one of the women in a picture had actually been taken not from life but from an image published in Mark’s fine 1978 book ‘Falkland Road‘ with the caption ‘Transvestites getting dressed in a courtyard. Falkland Road, Bombay, India.’

After reading the Petapixel post Bhat contacted them with this astonishing revelation – and the pictures in their post leave no room for doubt. It remains to be seen if this is an isolated case of cheating, or if once people across the world of photography start to look critically at Souvid Datta’s pictures they will come up with more instances. Petapixel describe it as plagiarism but I think a better term might be fraud. If you attempt to look at Souvid Datta’s web site at, you now only get the message ‘This page is password protected‘ rather than being able to access his pictures. ‘In the Shadows of Kolkata’ was available on the site last year, and the removal of this and his other pictures is highly suspicious. Petapixel say his Facebook and Twitter were also taken down after they contacted him asking for a response to the allegation.

As Petapixel states, Datta’s work has gained many prestigious awards over the years, but this puts all of them in doubt. Did he cheat in those other images? Will more cases like this emerge? It reminds me very much of drug-taking in athletics and cycling, and while it would probably not be sensible to call for awards other than those which include plagiarised images to be removed, perhaps we should consider ‘life-time bans’ for abusers in photography too.

Already PetaPixel has posted an update, linking to a Facebook post by documentary photographer Daniele Volpe, about two of his pictures being posted by Datta as his own.


The latest development – published as I was finishing writing the above is that Datta has admitted his guilt in an interview with Olivier Laurent on Time Lightbox, and trying to explain his actions. Frankly I think he is in the wrong job. Datta was educated at Harrow School, one of the UK’s two top public schools, going on to study at University College London (UCL) and spending 3 months as an intern at Magnum. None of these venerable institutions seemed to have trained him in basic honesty and integrity.

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