A prize-winning photographer has been accused of plagiarizing the work of a Chengdu photographer, reports the West China City Daily.
"Tomorrow's Reality" (《明天的现实》), one of the gold-medal winners of the Chinese National Photographic Art Exhibition 2010, was submitted by Hunan photographer Hou Xie.
The work shows bare trees standing in quiet water against a dark blue background. Pictures of colorful birds are floating on the water.
After the gold medal was awarded, Chen Lianju, a member of the Photographers Association of Jiangsu, found that "Tomorrow's Reality" shared many similarities with an uncredited photo that appeared in a book published 10 years ago.
Convinced that the award-winning work was plagiarized, Chen published an article online earlier this month in which he dubbed the case "Plagiarism Gate."
On August 10, Guo Ji, a photographer from Chengdu, told journalists that he had taken the prize-winning photograph in Longchi, Dujiangyan, more than 10 years ago.
"The respected Sichuan photographer Wang Jianju first told me about this," said Guo. "The gold-medal winner plagiarized my work."
Guo has been taking photographs since the late 1980s. He is now a member of Photographers Association of China and the vice president of Photographers Association of Chengdu.
"Obviously those pictures on the water were made with Photoshop," said Guo as he showed journalists the film and the original photograph on his computer, which is identical to the background of "Tomorrow's Reality." "Hou just rotated the photo and retouched it," he said.
Guo said he took the picture on a foggy morning in December 1997. He spotted the bare trees in the water while on his way to a shoot. "The mood of the scene was so unique," he recalled. He continued shooting for several hours, until the fog cleared.
"After that day all the trees were cut down. No one else can take photos like these," Guo told journalists while showing them his archive of over 100 photographs taken that morning in Longchi.
After shooting, Guo selected the best to include in his photograph collection, and sold the rest to Beijing Panorama Stock Ltd (北京全景视拓有限公司) for commercial uses. The plagiarized picture was then archived as image No. 0976 in the stock-photography database Imagine China (中国图片网).
"I sold them for about RMB20,000," added Guo. "The well-known photographer Yuan Xuejun helped me to find the company." Yuan verified this to the journalists later by phone.
The Response of Hou
Hou explained to journalists that "Tomorrow's Reality" was entered into the artistic and conceptual category of the exhibition. In this category, using Photoshop to facilitate the communication of the photographer's idea to viewers is allowed.
"I've sent the shooting and composing materials of the work to the committee," said Hou. "There is substantial originality in 'Tomorrow's Reality.'"
Yet Hou's remark is disputed by Liang Yankai, vice president of Photographers Association of Guangdong. "It's true that competition candidates can use Photoshop, but the background photograph should be taken by the candidates themselves," said Liang. "It's a rule that everybody knows."
The Photographers Association of China called Guo on August 10 to confirm that he had taken the picture numbered 0976 on Imagine China. Later that day Panorama Stock Ltd sent Guo a statement saying: "Guo Ji created Picture 0976 on Imagine China. Panorama Stock Ltd owns the copyright of the photograph, and the film is saved in the archive."
Guo sent the original photograph in the book and other evidence to the exhibition's organizing committee. And on August 15, the committe announced their decision to strip Hou of the gold medal. "Tomorrow's Reality" has since been removed from the winners' list on the official website of China Photographic Art Exhibition 2010.
Plagiarism is "common" in photography
"It seems common since so many photographers have plagiarized in recent years," said Guo. "My case should be a warning to photography professionals."
Just this past July, "Searching for Water," the first-prize winner of the Human and Water International Photography Competition 2010, was accused of plagiarism. Earlier this year, Sang Yuzhu, the vice president of Photographers Association of Jilin, was also found to have plagiarized his winning entry to the 8th Chinese Photography Award.
Duan Yuting, the art director of Lianzhou International Photo Festival, ascribed the misconduct to Chinese photographers' "eagerness to win" and "lack of confidence." She also said that these photographers "have nothing to lose."
Wuhan photographer Qiu Yan, for instance, Duan said, hired models to pose in his staged image "The Wedding during SARS," which then went on to win third place in the photojournalism World Press Contest in 2004. Even after the scandal was exposed, Qiu's career was not seriously harmed, he now lectures in universities as a "famous photographer."