Souvid Datta, Souvid Datta, Souvid Datta. Say the name, roll it around your mouth and remember its taste, the taste of a once promising wine turned sour and foul. A tragic tale of wasted talent, desiccated morals and perverted ambition.
Where to begin? Chances are that anyone reading this already knows the facts, but a brief resumé follows just in case:
Souvid Datta, an up-and-coming photojournalist, cloned a figure into one of his images for a series on Indian sex workers entitled ‘In the Shadows of Kolkata’, thus passing the original off as his own. The source photographer had been none other than Mary Ellen Mark, so the theft was doomed to be discovered sooner or later. Even so, it took an Indian social worker to uncover the theft rather than a picture editor (which does make one wonder how some of these people get their jobs!), but no matter, for Datta was damned. Petapixel publicised it, and Datta commenced his downhill slalom from there. He has now crashed and broken both his neck and career.
The scandal had barely emerged before it was further revealed that this was by no means his first transgression. As things turned out, he had stolen others’ images on previous occasions, a fact he confessed in an otherwise lily-livered interview he gave in his defence in TIME shortly after shutting down all his social media accounts and website. Moreover, it also emerged that he had happily snapped away while an underage sex worker was violated in an Indian brothel, then proceeded to publish an image showing her face.
On the back of these breaches of pretty well every single ethical rule of photojournalism Datta had built a meteoric career, receiving one major grant and award after the next. Pity the worthier photographers who missed out because the funds were allocated to Datta.
Particularly extraordinary was that all of this emerged over the course of little more than a week. Datta, who had previously been the apple of the eye of editors worldwide and bodies as significant as the Pulitzer Center, Alexia Foundation, Getty, Visura and others, was suddenly exposed as a first rate fraud with no moral compass. He cares for nothing and no one except his own success.
In the aforementioned TIME interview by Olivier Laurent, the really tough questions were consummately avoided and he was given every opportunity to make his excuses (post script: another article by the same author has since appeared, taking a far more critical approach). In essence, Datta would have us believe that he was simply too young to understand that using Mark’s work was wrong, that photographing a child being abused was wrong, that appropriating others’ images was wrong. He would have us believe he will now set about ‘making amends’.
But we believe nothing. There can be no trust for this person. Apart from his self-massaging in TIME, he has effectively gone into hiding, and let us hope he stays there.
But on the off chance you’re reading this, Souvid, let me tell you one thing: the only way you will make amends is by burying yourself in a hole, never to emerge. Your lack of respect for your subjects (people who trusted you), your public (people who trusted you) and your colleagues (people who require trust) is beyond redemption. Your credibility is shot and you deserve no future in the field of photography. You have had a life of immense privilege, attending one of Britain’s finest public schools (Harrow) and studying law, and yet you have the gall to use TIME as a platform in which to tell us that at 24 you were ‘too young’ to understand the ethics of your trade? Honestly, how dare you?
I could write hundreds of additional words here about the need for photojournalism to subject itself to a searching self-examination in the aftermath, and perhaps that is a topic for another time. A similar diatribe could be written about picture editors’ abject failure to identify this sooner, or why TIME has tacitly (or actively?) sought to give Datta a forum in which to seek a second chance. But the real point is that I hope and pray that Souvid Datta never, ever has a voice again, other than as an example of worst practice to be studied in photography courses around the world.
I did not think it was possible, but Souvid Datta has set a new Crap Factor benchmark, never to be surpassed: Crap Factor 20/10. May you and your kind rot, Souvid. I don’t just crap on your photos, I crap on you.
Souvid Datta, Souvid Datta, Souvid Datta. Say the name, roll it in your mouth, remember the taste, then spit it out for the poison that it is.