Award-winning Indonesia street photo in focus over claims it was ‘staged’

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Questions surrounding the authenticity of the image taken by Dikye Ariani have been rife among Indonesian photographers online for weeks

The owner of a photography studio has said her photo was a ‘staged’ shot in a commercial event he organised last year

The winner of an international photography contest, who edged out some half a million rivals with an image showing an Indonesian coffee shop, is facing accusations that her entry was “staged” in a studio.

Dikye Ariani impressed judges at this year’s CEWE Photo Award with a picture that purportedly shows people playing a card game at a roadside coffee shop in Bogor city, but its authenticity has been disputed by photographers in Indonesia.

A studio owner in Bogor, requesting anonymity over fears of impact on his business, told This Week in Asia that Dikye’s picture was taken during a promotional event he had organised in November last year, to promote a camera launch for Japanese brand Fujifilm.

“The theme of the event was to simulate the appearance of a coffee shop in the old days,” he said, adding that the photo showed ordinary people who lived in his studio’s vicinity.

“There is a sense of joy for me because the photo is being seen by many people,” he added. “But we have to be transparent from the start that the photo entered in the competition is a staged photo. That concerns our ethics as photographers.”

Pictures taken by other photographers and the studio owner at the event have also been shared on social media.

The CEWE Photo Award, organised by German printing company CEWE, describes itself as “the world’s largest photography competition”.

Dikye last month travelled to Hamburg city to receive her award, which included a holiday worth €15,000 (US$15,800), €7,500 worth of photography equipment and €2,500 of CEWE products.

Thomas Mels, a board member of CEWE, said Dikye’s winning photo conveyed “an authentic glimpse into everyday life in Indonesia”.

“She succeeds in capturing the beauty of the moment. Her motif perfectly reflects the motto of the CEWE Photo Award: ‘Our world is beautiful’.”

Questions surrounding the authenticity of the image had emerged among Indonesian photographers online for weeks after the winner was announced in September, according to Yulianus Ladung, a photographer based in Jakarta.

To a trained eye, it was clear that Dikye’s work was not a natural scene at an Indonesian warung kopi, or streetside coffee shop, he said.Woman caught on camera faking road accident in payout bid

Some users on X, formerly Twitter, also speculated whether the image was generated using artificial intelligence technology. Concerns over the use of AI have made headlines in the country after a video of President Joko Widodo speaking in Chinese went viral on social media last week, with the Ministry of Communication and Information attributing it to “AI-deep fake technology”.

Dikye did not respond to requests for comment.

“We take this matter very seriously and are currently investigating whether there has been a violation of our terms and conditions,” said Robert Kriesten, senior public relations manager at CEWE.

This is not the first time a photo competition has come under scrutiny over the authenticity of its winning entry.

In 2019, the Hamdan International Photography Award hosted in Dubai faced controversy after it emerged that the first-prize winner, Malaysian Edwin Ong, had staged his picture.

The image, which showed a woman in Vietnam carrying two children, won Ong the competition’s US$120,000 grand prize.

While news reports after his win showed behind-the-scenes images of his winning photograph being staged, Ong maintained his photo was genuine, according to Malaysian website The Star.

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