For reasons that are as yet unclear, Sony World Photo Awards has removed a number of images of Hong Kong protests from its finalists. Three photographers — Ko Chung Ming, David Butow, and Adam Ferguson — appear to have had their work removed, though some have since been reinstated, albeit with certain images from their projects now missing.
As detailed on Hong Kong Free Press, images taken by Ko depicted injuries sustained by protestors as part of a body of work entitled "Wounds of Hong Kong." Last week, he noticed that the link to his images was no longer working.
World Photography Organization, the competition organizers, stated on Twitter that the work was removed after “concerns” had been raised and that the images were now back online. Hong Kong Free Press was told by WPO that the images were removed temporarily so that complaints from “individual members” could be investigated.
However, six of the ten images are still missing, as can be seen here. The Documentary category requires contestants to submit a body of work made up of ten images, and currently, Ko’s page shows only four. The complete set of photographs can be seen on Ko’s Facebook page (click to see the complete series — GRAPHIC CONTENT):
Photographer David Butow was also shortlisted within the Documentary category with a series of images entitled "Battleground Hong Kong." Speaking on Twitter, he announced that some of the photographs in the series would not be displayed by WPO, and he has since decided to withdraw his entry completely.
Responding to questions whether his images of protest were too violent or provocative, he compared it to the work of Mustafa Hassona’s winning entry in last year’s competition, which documented political violence in Gaza.
Butow’s ten images can be seen in their entirety on his website.
Earlier this week, Butow received a phone call from the organizers saying that the work was under review because of its political nature. The process would take a few days, during which time the images would be removed from the website. He was then informed that the series was back online.
It wasn’t until a few days later that he realized that some of the images were missing. He called the WPO, who informed him that five of his ten images would remain offline and that potential exhibitions may feature nine of the images, but one certain image would always be omitted.
Butow explained: “I was sure about the overall point: the essay, which was entered and originally displayed as a single body of work, would be modified for different audiences in different situations.” When he asked if any other images in the competition had been reassessed, he was told that another series featuring Hong Kong protests had also been edited.
Butow is clear in his reasons for withdrawing the series: the scope and context of the work had been revised without him being consulted. On that basis, he felt that his series was not compatible with the competition.
“For that reason, it’s disappointing for me to pull the work,” he explained, “but it needs to be seen in the right context and presented in a way faithful to the original intention.”
Photographer Adam Ferguson was shortlisted for the Portraiture category and is thought to have been the third photographer to have had his work removed. According to Inside Imaging, his series, entitled “Hong Kong Protestors,” was removed, but is now back online.
WPO has not been shy to publish graphic images in the past, and there is speculation that pressure on the organization has come from elsewhere. If the images are being censored, it would be completely at odds with the competition's intentions and ethics.
WPO has been contacted for comment.
Lead image via Wikipedia used under Creative Commons.