Is the Sony World Photo Awards Censoring These Images of Hong Kong Protests?

Is the Sony World Photo Awards Censoring These Images of Hong Kong Protests?

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.

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21 Comments

Jeff Walsh's picture

It's a private awards competition, held by a company who isn't subject to zero censorship. Are they censoring, yup and they're allowed to. They are allowed to say what they do, and do not, want in their awards competition.

Let me add: I think it's a terribly crappy thing to do and is absolutely a suppression of truth, and troubles me that Sony (I shoot Sony) would do this. It makes me at the least question supporting them as a company.

You’re only partially correct. There’s a dangerous misconception that free speech can only be infringed upon by a government entity. This is not true. Court rulings from the time it was common for employees of large corporations to live in “company towns” refute this. Since a company owned the entire town, they would would move to stifle speech they disagreed with from being expressed in common areas, arguing, like you, they are “private entities” and therefor can censor without infringing on constitutional rights. They lost.

While not directly applicable to your example, today our digital “town squares” are owned by private entities like google and Facebook, who, like the company town owners before them, assert the right to censor speech.

Jeff Walsh's picture

Okay, but that isn't applicable to this as a photo contest isn't a town square either literal or digital. Also, in the case you're talking about the companies were infringing on basic human rights, meaning they created a town for the people who worked for them, but then used their own "company law" to suppress the general freedoms provided by the government, such as freedom of speech. In this case, Sony can pick and choose the entries they want in their competition which doesn't infringe on the photographer freedom to take and publish those photos. It just means Sony doesn't want those photographs in their own company sponsored contest.

Taking a cue from the NBA apparently.

jonas y's picture

I mean, if socialsts don't put presure and be mad at their criticisers, are they still socialists?

Socialists who don’t silence their critics are put against the wall by the socialists that do.

jonas y's picture

Yes, and they also found this signature Marxism Famine™ a better way to murder opponents by tens of millions.

Pierre Dasnoy's picture

Is China a socialist democratic country, or a dictatorship disguised as a communist parody ?
What are the signs that tell a political regime is autoritarian ?
Centralised power, repression, no opposition permitted, manipulation of the information (like here).

Seems totalitarian regimes “masquerading“ as Socialism is a common theme, repeated over and over, ie, Venezuela.

Edward Blake's picture

China is totalitarian capitalist.

jonas y's picture

Politically it is classic socialism, and the top brass do control the mean of production in many industry soo....

Edward Blake's picture

I don't think you understand the difference between socialism and totalitarianism.

jonas y's picture

Tell me about it?

Edward Blake's picture

How about rather than expecting some random stranger to explain their conception of complex political and economic ideas (upon which a great deal of scholarly literature has been published) you do some actual reading.

jonas y's picture

It's ok to run from this little online discuession. I have not only read and discussed with given subject experts(I speak 3 languages), I lived under one for years.

jonas y's picture

You are right, authoritarians concentrate power. I mean why else do they nationalize means of production after gaining power?(sounds familiar hummmmmmmmmm
)

Pierre Dasnoy's picture

I guess you are thinking of the USA. And you are right, they act like if they had to control the world. That's the only common point.
The point here is : Sony won't tickle China on informations they don't want to be spread.
I couldn't blame sony since it works like a society with huge investments in China, but I'm very sad about how a fucked up regime can dictate things like art and information. That is a big problem.

jonas y's picture

At least we can agree on the government to try to control art is bad, right?

Edward Blake's picture

Sony manufacture in China and sell product in the Chinese market.

I'm sure you can work it out.

David Butow was told up to 5 of his 10 photo series would be removed for politically sensitive content and that one image in particular would not ever be exhibited in association with these awards. David discusses this perplexing turn of events on a podcast here: https://youtu.be/AmZHDc2xiWo