I share these stories not to point fingers but to say to my readers to just be honest in your life and do the best that you can with the time you have… *love not hate!*
Recently this year, in Feb and March 2019, two bombshells dropped in the photography competition world that have rocked it’s foundations. These comps have very strict rules and regulations about what you can enter and what you can’t. The 2 major stories were that Lisa Saad, who is the AIPP’s 2018 commercial photographer of the year (poster child), has been stripped of all her industry awards and grants after being found to have 10’s to 100’s of images that she essentially stole the source elements which is against all the comp rules, not to mention immoral. The second story is that the winner of the prestigious $120,000 HIPA photo contest staged their photograph entry.
To me both of these instances show just how much pressure creatives and the industry itself puts on them to achieve accolades and stay at the top of the photographic world.
Starting with Lisa, her credibility has been shattered and the depth of her betrayals go back years and years. For those that don’t know how she creates her images, she might take a photo of a tree, another of a man, a cat, a balloon, a building and then combine them all into one image with Photoshop to tell a visual story. This style of image making is the category illustration in these esteemed photo comps and were such that all these source element photos had to be taken personally by her and not be stock photography. Essentially she was using a LOT of stolen images and I’ll get into that further down. I have seen a lot of her friends and acquaintances stand up for her online and in photo apps and forums. If she was a friend of mine I would also stand up for her because keyboard warriors on the internet can be so cruel. I must admit I do feel very sorry for her as many of her social media accounts have had to be either closed and locked by her as she was receiving a lot of negative commentary on them. Personally, I am a pretty understanding guy and realise people make mistakes and can see both sides to the story. I also know that she is a human being just like the rest of us who will need to get back on with her life. I was one of the Lance Armstrong fans who couldn’t believe he was cheating until he finally admitted it on the Oprah Winfrey show. Even before that when there was all that evidence in court and Lance was denying it all and saying it wasn’t true, I believed him. I guess I didn’t want to believe that a man could beat cancer and then base a career on lies and deceit. It was revolting to think that he was associating with all these other cancer patients and at the same time looking us all in the eye and lying. Lance basically fooled the entire world for a decade. This is how I feel about Lisa’s story, there is a very similar feel to it for me. At some point in the last few years the stress of all the deceit must have been overwhelming for her and in a way she is probably relieved that all her cats are out of the bag so to speak. I do think she can still work in the photography industry because she is clearly very talented but just not like she was before as she had such high profile clients.
Below is an example of what kind of creations she makes on the left and zoom in of 2 of these elements in the middle row, and then the right column are the original source photos which are not hers but found by the wonderful internet detectives (stopstealingphotos.com). But the sources are just so out in the open it boggles the mind, like the manhole cover is taken from an actual book cover you can find on Amazon here and the diving board is just from a website you can find images of pretty much anything on called seekpng.
I think Lisa set the bar so high with her amazing standard of work years ago and had to keep on creating at the level. But she had too many clients, competitions, personal work to keep all that up … and so just didn’t have the enough time to be editing all this work and still have time to be out and shooting all the source material shots as well. So she was just getting her source material off of stock photos sites and google, pretty much anywhere and everywhere.
There is a site that shows just how many images she entered in competitions and is constantly updated when new ones are found where she lied about where she got the original elements from. I went through most of this post and it was very surprising that nothing was done earlier – you can see those stolen images all here (warning it’s a long long read!). I know there were accusations earlier in her career and other such mishaps that she fought off with her lawyers but none of it ever completely stuck until now. One thing that doesn’t sit right with me is all the original photographers whose work she used were never acknowledged or paid throughout the years and many of them have taken to the internet to voice how they feel about it and it’s not good at all. It’s almost become a meme. Then of course there are all the people who didnt win awards and grants because they placed behind her. This wasn’t loose change either, we are talking about $1,000’s of dollars, travel and residency programs for artists. For those artists I truly do feel sorry because I know the artistic lifestyle, as I live it! and money, or the lack of money, is always an issue. I don’t want to dredge all this up to point fingers, but it is a huge story and having been in the photo industry for a long time myself as well as also being Australian it had an effect on me personally to go through and read all this. I do hope Lisa can get back on track and is healthy/happy with her life. She’s an amazing artist and still has a lot to give to the world of art and photography! People can make wrong decisions, but she deserves another chance.
Now to the HIPA story, which is a completely different situation because whilst the photographer didn’t strictly break the HIPA competition rules it just didn’t sit right with the photography community as a whole and isn’t in the whole spirit of the photography competitions. If the competition panel knew how the photo was taken in the first place then I’m not sure it would have been allowed to enter, let alone be given the $120,000 1st place winner. If you see the image from the petapixel article this one below, it was a photography tour and the woman had seen this type of thing near her village before and offered to pose. She had her reasons and looks like a very inspiring woman!
It was not until the winner was announced that someone else on the tour shared the shot on the right showing the other 20 photographers all in a semi-circle around the woman posing and who will all have the exact same shot! Perhaps they felt jealous of the money, I’m not sure.
The whole story reminds me of what has now become of all the most famous photography locations in the world where the final images we see on social media photo sites like 500px and instagram are nothing like the reality of the locations. Whilst the photos themselves offer incredible views with inspiring sunsets the reality is now often a clump of photographers bunched up from 3am all in one spot waiting to get the shot… Iceland is one such place that has had to put up fences all over the place just to keep photographers from ruining the landscape. A few of these famous locations I’m referring to are Mesa Arch in America, the Wanaka Tree in New Zealand, Cormorant fishermen in Guilin China and the kirkjufellsfoss waterfall and Mountain in Iceland. I much prefer to be out and have a location to myself and often in Australia I am lucky enough to get that. It’s only at the big locations that you might run into other photographers, but more often than not you get amazing spaces to yourself. Tomas Heaton has a fascinating video on youtube where he went to one of these clumps at Mesa Arch, and he’s such an inspiring guy, and just watch it for yourself.
I wanted to further discuss the concept of moral codes of conduct in photography. There is a clear difference between the rules in landscape photography vs commercial world of photography. In my body of landscape photography work I don’t replace, introduce or remove any items from my photos. This presents it’s own challenges and makes every photo I create a combination of planning ahead, a lot of exploring and travel, some luck with the weather and many many other factors. You are also expected to present the scene to your audience as it was on the day when you took the photograph. I’ve always stood by this as I feel like this is one truth that’s important to hold on to. In this industry all you have is your credibility and once you have lost that, well than you have lost everything. There are photographers who blend composites and creative artists who combine elements from multiple photos like a collage called illustrative photography but these artists let you know they are blending. This style of photography is fantastic, it’s just not what I do personally.
*A side note You can see all my landscape photographs here and all of them are available as prints, I would be so happy for you to take a browse and scroll through my body of work and leave a comment here on any you like!