LensCulture and the commodification of rape

Where to begin?

Magnum Photos and LensCulture are running a photo competition. One of those where you give them lots of money and in return if you’re one of  the lucky ones they give you ‘exposure’.

Let’s just cut to the chase. There’s no way of dressing this up.

In order to promote the competition LensCulture used a photo allegedly of a trafficked child sex slave being raped.

Yes, you read that right.

No, this is not some kind of sick wind up.

I’m not going to post the picture here but in it the photographer is stood over the rapist. We see his naked back and the back of his head.  We can see the girl’s face. She’s looking away from the camera, obviously distressed, but she is fully identifiable. Her name is ‘Beauty’ (you can see it here where the photo has been altered to protect the girl’s identity).

Only the rapist is given the privilege of anonymity.

The text wrapped around the photo urges you my photography friends to not ‘miss out’ on ‘recognition’ by entering the Magnum Photography Awards:


The post had been shared widely before it was taken down (only at the photographer’s request who  specifically told LensCulture not to use the photo).

Magnum also featured more of Datta’s project on the header of the competition website.

Can someone explain the mentality at play here? Is it because photographers look at the picture and think:

‘Oh look there’s a child in a cage crying.  Maybe if I enter a picture of a trafficked child being raped or caged up and crying I can also get myself exposure.’


Pure and simple this is the commodification of child rape.

Does the photography world get any more fucked up than this?

In the UK, taking and sharing this photo would be a criminal offence. It’s a criminal offence even to name survivors of sexual crimes unless they have expressly given permission, and in this case, a vulnerable child is not able to consent.

It’s my guess that if human rights activist (formerly of Amnesty) Rob Godden hadn’t pointed out how indecent the use of the image was it would still be being shared on Facebook. At the time of writing LensCulture have offered zero response. They were totally disinterested in the many comments on their post pointing out how abusive the image is.

So let me put it straight to  Jim Casper (Editor), Kamran Mohsenin (CEO) and Laura Sackett (Creative Director), what else am I to presume other than that your company has an horrendously warped and racist relationship with the world? One in which you are only able to see photos, photographers and the people in their pics as objects of profit.

Did anyone at LensCulture consider that the children of ‘Beauty’ might need protecting from the trauma of seeing pictures of their Mother forced into sex spread across the internet?

And what is going on in your heads that LensCulture would seek to profit from a picture of a child sex slave being raped?



What is going on in there?

That girl by the way has a story (found on Datta’s website). Read it:

Aged 12, her family arranged her marriage with an abusive 23 year-old man. She went on to have her first child aged 12. The following year, she fled following her mother’s death taking refuge with her elder sister, then 19. Within two months, her brother-in-law attempted to force himself upon her, yet her sister did nothing, instead demanding she leave their house. It was on a train to Dhaka, in search of escape and work, that Beauty and her one year-old son eventually met their trafficker. ‘A vast, wiry-haired…wild-eyed woman’ promised her a menial job with substantial renumeration; minutes later Beauty’s water bottle had been spiked with a sedative. When she awoke she found herself in a half-way house in Nonchapota, on the Bangladesh-India border, awaiting her transfer and sale to the brothels of Sonagachi.

Beauty embraces her two sons – Nayan, 5, and Ridoy, 4. The first was born when she was 12, and the second, a year later after her first few months working in the brothel. The two have been held as bargaining chips by her previous brothel owner when Beauty refused her work as a ‘Chukri’ (forced sex-slave). Now they both stay in a nearby NGO shelter which Beauty visits every few days. “Holding them, tight, close to me is the only thought that gets me through the day… I don’t need saving. I died a long time ago. It’s them who need saving. It’s for them that I do this work. I hope I can at least save them from this world… that I can give them some of the important chances in life that I never had.

This is a horrific case where one abuse, one exploitation has been heaped on another.  Where a real human, with a real story, real children and real feelings is reduced to clickbait for a shitty competition in which you can trade your soul for exposure.

All for $60.


If you are concerned about this story I encourage you to politely reach out to LensCulture and ask them to respond.  You can post on their Facebook Page, or Tweet them. I am personally dismayed at the number of photographers who express disgust in private but are afraid to do so publicly. Change will not happen by remaining silent and this commodification of the most vulnerable is not something a healthy community should accept.

To those who argue, from a place of absolute privilege (the photographer went to Harrow) that we need to see photos like this to make people care, who are you mixing with? Because no-one I know needs to see a photo of a child being raped to care. If that’s you. Sincerely. Seek help.


Update 1: LensCulture have sort of apologised on their Facebook page (please read and if you feel like it comment). According to them Datta acted ethically. They then cite UNICEF’s guidelines on working with children. Which is kind of crazy because Datta’s work is completely in contravention of them:

Always change the name and obscure the visual identity of any child who is identified as a victim of sexual abuse or exploitation.

Update 2: Datta has issued a statement. It’s pretty shocking. You can read and comment on his Facebook page here. Basically she made him do it.  And anyway he is above the law. I don’t think that argument would stand up in court.

Update 3: LensCulture have deleted their first apology and issued a new statement on Facebook.

‘We at LensCulture made a terrible mistake in judgment last Friday by publishing an image depicting sexual violence against a young girl on our Facebook page … We condemn the lack of ethical standards used to create the photograph in question, and we apologize for publishing the photograph (which should never be published anywhere).’

Update 4: Following duckrabbit revealing on Twitter that Datta has plagiarised the work of Mary Ellen Mark he has deleted all his social media.

NPR have reported all of this here.

Time interviewed Datta here and and then following strong industry criticism that Datta was not questioned on the photo of Beauty a follow up article was published here.

I’ll let Robert Godden have the last word.




Discussion (43 Comments)

  1. John MacPherson says:

    The easy way to do this work, to tell this story, is to photograph the victim in the way (not) shown here. By their very status – victim – these people are disempowered, weakened, not (financially) powerful, and are usually, in this type of circumstance, women.

    The hard way, the really hard way to tell this story, but also the way that will really get to the truly rotten heart of it, is to photograph the perpetrators, the men, the system that they exist within, and not grant them the anonymity of the back-of-the-head-shot.

    Until I see that being done, and done well, I’ll consider this type of approach a poor substitute – exploitative, ill-considered and simply building upon that foundation of exploitation these women are suffering.

    • duckrabbit says:

      Hi John, thanks so much for this words. I am with you. All the way.

    • Robert Godden says:

      Well said John. I would add that there is another way to picture this issue – using participatory methodology / photography as a social practice. I have seen many creative and thoughtful practitioners produce work that is not only respectful and consensual, but truly puts the power of representation in the hands of the participants to tell their story. Projects like this can include health professionals (like counsellors and therapists) so the participants are not re-traumatised, and that the project is therapeutic.

      • John MacPherson says:

        Yes fully agree Robert, and have seen some excellent examples. I’ve been involved in participatory photography projects in Social Work for adults with intellectual impairments that allowed them to explore issues that affect them, in a positive way. Crucially it was designed to be therapeutic, and that was a defining aspect of its structure, involving psychologist’s input and various layers of ethical safeguards too.

        I’ve also been involved in more specific image-based work with people recovering from mental illness & depression (a couple of which participants had suffered some degree of sexual abuse) and again which sought to allow the individual’s to respond to their trauma in a way that gave them a degree of control as participants, and NOT as is too easily done, further remove control from them as subjects.

        The way image-based/story work will be used, may be used, might be used, and crucially will not be used, should all form a part of the overarching ‘contract of engagement’. And if the participants say at any point “we need to stop” it must.

        The bottom line is that the ‘legalities’ that surround and protect the author’s ownership of images and also the vendor of those image’s ‘right to sell’ and profit from them, must not be more extensive nor more dominating within ‘the contract of enegagement’ than the rights of the individual pictured, whose de facto situation is one of disempowerment and abuse.

        Good to see LensCulture issue an apology. Never too late in my opinion.

        But, what they should do now is find a suitable forum, moderate it, and open up a discussion around these issues – they need to, to wider educate practitioners, to tease out the subtle aspects of all of this, and the responsibilites that are conferred on all of us wielding cameras and telling stories.

        The public response to their (mis)use of the image proves people are willing to speak up & out about issues of representation, and as many men as women as far as I can see. Thats a positive thing, and Magnum and Lens Culture as leading voices in the industry should lead the debate rather than turn away from it.

        The saddest aspect of all of this for me – the controversy around LensCulture’s use of the image has overtaken the story of an individual’s damaged life. Lens Culture’s apology goes some considerable way towards shifting back the focus to where it needs to be, on the victim.

        • duckrabbit says:

          LensCulture’s apology basically says to their million followers its ethically fine to stage a child sex worker being raped as long as you get the context right. The photographers statement claims he is above the law because he is the servant of her story. I cannot agree with either of them.

          • John MacPherson says:

            Right and I fully agree with you, and disagree with them, and their stance, use of image, and (lack of) appropriate follow up.

            I appreciate LC’s apology (given that too often other perpetrators of stuff like this have stayed silent) but I think they now need to proactively engage with this discussion on ethical frameworks & guidelines and their role as editors/gatekeepers.

            Curiously the image under scrutiny appears to not comply with Lens Culture’s own legal T&C’s as applicable to Site Users.
            ( https://www.lensculture.com/legal )

            ” 6. USER CONDUCT
            You acknowledge and agree:
            b. without limitation of the foregoing, not to use the Site or Services to submit any Content regarding any products or multimedia files, or make comments about them, that are unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, defamatory, vulgar, libelous, deceptive, fraudulent, contains explicit or graphic descriptions or accounts of sexual acts, invasive of another’s privacy, or hateful; or that victimizes, harasses, degrades, or intimidates an individual or group of individuals on the basis of religion, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, age, or disability.

  2. Mary Carson says:

    There is background to this project but it is up to Souvid to provide that. Suffice to say that he did not photograph a rape. Your point about its use as an advert for a photo competition is on the nail. It is outrageous that part of a breakthrough project which took over 3 years to produce with absolute respect for those who featured in it be used in this manner. Your point on privilege is not. First of all u do not have all of the facts nor have u seen the project in context. Secondly we need to look at how our own privilege can disempower those whose abilities to make decisions we would judge.

    • duckrabbit says:

      HI Mary.

      Thanks for your comment. By Souvid’s own account the girl was drugged at 12 and sold into sex slavery. Her children were held as a bargaining chip to make her continue in sex slavery. When you pay to have sex with a child sex slave, then yeah, in my opinion that is rape. She’s not doing it out of choice. She’s had that beaten out of her long ago. She’s a highly traumatised individual. In her own words she says ‘I don’t need saving. I died a long time ago. ‘

      Is that a child who can make a well thought out choice about having her photo taken in this position?

      Adults are supposed to protect kids. Often from themselves. Even if, as Souvid claims, she asked for the photo to be taken its easy to make the argument, no I do not have to photograph you being raped to elevate your story. I do not have to enter the picture of you being raped into a photography competition to elevate your story. A photography competition that sells itself by stating ‘these awards aim to offer an unprecedented level of international exposure.’

      The results speak for themselves.

      • Robi Chakraborty says:

        The only way he could have photographed the rape, was to pay a pimp in that brothel. He is an accomplish to rape as she is a minor. Even if we agree that she asked him to photographer herself she still is a minor and in the courts she can not give consent.

    • Robert Godden says:

      Mary, I’m interested in your assertion that Souvid did not photograph a rape. From the information provided we know that the subject was a child at the time, that she had been coerced into being a sex worker, and that in the image she has a drunken client on top of her. If the client had sex with the subject it is rape (not even statutory rape as no court would accept she was in a position to consent). So are you claiming the client did not perform a sexual act with the girl? Or that the photo was staged? Or that the caption is incorrect? Or is there a level of pedantry going on here regarding exactly what moment this image captures? Even if people can comfort themselves that they are not looking at an image of actual rape we need to ask ourselves a very important question – what allows us to contemplate (and publish widely) the suffering of distant children when we would not allow this of our own?

      • Mary Carson says:

        Hello all, I have knowlege of the project because I wanted to commission it for a mainstream media platform, it is a three years investigation on how tens of thousands of Indian children are being abducted, imprisoned, raped, beaten into submission and then sold to brothels like the one in which Beauty used to work. It is an aberration that it is happening at all but worse that the resources to catch the traffickers before they get to the brothels are not being put in place and international attention is difficult to bring to the subject because of the geography and poverty of the families involved. Souvid worked with families, Beauty and others for three years to shine a light on this story. I cannot speak for him nor do I want to in terms of the intimate details of the project, suffice to say I did scrupulous due diligence on this, the project and legalities to ensure that all consents had been signed with full understanding of what the having images as part of a project of htis nature would mean in terms of worldwide attention on a global platform. I was satisifed and found this picture to be the least horrific of a collection which Souvid accessed as a photojournalist working in an area where few others bother to go. There are all kinds of complications around subjects like these and in many cases those are the sensitivities informed by a very privileged position in this part of the world and a very patronising view of what individuals not in our world understand as implications for involvement. Beauty wanted her story told fully, so that people would understand exactly what that meant. I can say no more because the story is not mine to tell but feel exacerbated as a journalist and a filmmaker that girls are still disappearing in their thousands every year, being held and broken in half way houses and then sold into a life from which they rarely escape. This was an opportunity, in the context of a solid investigation carried out by a courageous photojournalist, that might in some way have changed our perspective on those realities. Thank you for the debate and the introduction to this platform.

        • Robert Godden says:

          Hi Mary, thanks for taking the time to respond. I understand the frustrations you express. I think we can all agree that the trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation is horrific and we need to work hard to stamp it out. However, it is not accurate to say that this issue is in some way hidden or that civil society organisations and UN bodies are not fully aware of it. A huge amount of resources have been thrown at this issue over decades. We would certainly have hoped that the impact would have been more but having worked as a human rights campaigner for nearly 20yrs I know that change is often frustratingly slow. I worked for years in Nepal, partly on counter trafficking (though on forced labour of migrant workers), as well as India (on multiple issues). In doing so I came to know staff at the NGOs working on the problem of girls being trafficked to brothels in India. USAID alone must have spent millions of US$ on projects in Nepal. It was such a priority that we had to fight hard to get donors to provide money to projects on forced labour and migration. I also know that the issue has received plenty of international media attention. For example, CNN made a documentary about it whilst I was living in Kathmandu, even bringing Demi Moore to Nepal for the filming. They also named Anuradha Koirala, the founder of Maithi Nepal (a counter trafficking NGO) one of the Top 10 “CNN Heroes” in 2010. I could go on. My argument is that this issue is not suffering from an awareness issue, at least not in the places that matter. People in the EU or US might not know, but it is questionable what impact they can have. As such, I doubt this body of work will have the kind of impact those who support it hope. Obviously, I could be wrong. But with that in mind I cannot in good conscience condone the photographing and publishing of an image of a girl being raped. I cannot think of one good reason this contributes to change. I work with many photographers and know there are many other ways work on this issue could be done. BTW – You never answered my question on how you know the photographer “did not photograph a rape”?. The photographer may not have broken the law in regards to the image published by LensCulture (that is assuming he has written consent from Beauty to use the photo that is dated after she turned 18yrs old), but he had photographs of girls who appeared much younger (one in what looked like a cage) on his website until yesterday (they are now in a password protected folder). He has given no indication that they gave permission (maybe why he has hidden them?). If they had been raped then he would have broken the law in India by publishing them (Section 23 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012). There is a similar law for adults (who have been victims of rape), though they can give their consent (Section 228A of the Indian Penal Code). Now some will say that it is very unlikely anyone of those women is going to press charges, but assuming we agree that laws designed to protect victims of rape are there for good reason we would be hypocrites to say we can ignore them when it suits us. In my work, especially with Amnesty International, I had to get written consent every time, no matter how difficult it was. I know the score. It can be terribly difficult. But we had to hold ourselves to the highest standard. I’ve certainly made my mistakes, haven’t we all, and through that we learn that cutting corners can get you into all kinds of trouble, as well as doing a disservice to those we work to help.

        • ryan says:

          Mary, respectfully, you did not do your due diligence. According to Indian law what Souvid did is completely illegal.

          Posco clearly says
          WHEREAS the State parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child
          are required to undertake all appropriate national, bilateral and
          multilateral measures to prevent—
          (a) the inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity;
          (b) the exploitative use of children in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices;
          (c) the exploitative use of children in pornographic performances and materials;

  3. Inji Pennu says:

    Lens Culture, Magnum all have been preying into vulnerable countries and communities, take photographs of people bombed, raped, dead and display on front pages of Ivy League news sites as their neo-liberal photo journalism trophies.

  4. Tim says:

    It’s hard to know where to start. I see they have now pulled the post and apologised.

  5. Robi Chakraborty says:

    He paid a pimp to be allowed to film a child being raped He is an accomplish in that rape.

  6. ric_vn6768 says:

    so, what did you give the starving man on the park bench?
    A: f/8 @125th

  7. Stan B. says:

    So many, so many things wrong here, and I’m not gonna pass the buck- I may well be at fault as well…

    There’s a good chance I may have seen this photo on their site (one I do frequent on occasion)- and skimmed right on by, despite all the obvious and inherent ‘what is wrong with this picture’ signs… I think in part because I had seen Mary Ellen Mark’s essay on prostitutes in India from years ago, and just assumed something similar, or… because- it’s just another case of ‘Western’ photographers depicting brown skilled people and their ‘usual’ woes. Lame excuses one and all- which is exactly why we must remain ever vigilant to call out such wanton abuse and misbehavior by all parties considered- from photographer, to publisher… to viewer. Why wasn’t there a global outcry of outrage concerning this? And to incorporate the image into a money making enterprise, is truly well beyond obscene!

    We’ve become accustomed to skimming images on the internets, seeing the plethora of images roll before us in a half conscious state with one eye open. This is a wake up call to be alert to what we see and patronize as individuals, we should all have been alerted by now as to what can happen when a whole nation doesn’t pay attention…

  8. Roo says:

    The sad truth is this happens all through Asia on a daily basis, anyone who has travelled there will have seen it. I still remember 6-7 years ago traveling through Cambodia and seeing 60-70yo men staying in hotels with very very young local girls, and it was hardly an isolated incident or hidden. You say “Because no-one I know needs to see a photo of a child being raped to care” – whilst that’s true in regards to the caring aspect it’s not in regards to grabbing your attention which is unfortunately what needs to happen these days for anyone to even give you the time of day. Do you honestly think this image will in anyway impact on “Beauty’s” life? Are you that naive that you honestly believe her sons will grow up not knowing exactly what she does? I don’t follow lens culture but I have followed magnum for some time and they have always had controversial images, is showing a naked running napalmed girl obscene? Or is the fact it happend obscene? What about the myriad pictures of dead and dying soldiers/civilians they have? Should that be banned? Because it’s wrong or uncomfortable? it could be said they too are exploiting the helpless? how is this any different? Was showing the washed up dead Syrian boy a couple of years ago a violation of his rights? Of his family’s? The only part where you are onto something here is yes these images should not be used as advertising for a stupid competition, no they should be part of a photo essay that westerners should have to read and maybe, just maybe it might stop some of those men considering heading over for a “good time” to get a conscience and reconsider.

    • duckrabbit says:

      Hi Roo,

      I shouldn’t need to point out to you that knowing your Mum is a sex worker and having a photo of her being raped spread over the internet to advertise a photo comp are two different things.

      The issue under discussion is not other images but needless to say there’s a big difference between a child being washed up on a beach to a photographer setting up a photo of a child sex slave being raped to enter a competition.

      One difference, as pointed out in the post, is to take and share this image in the UK, where sex slavery is a terrible reality, would be a criminal offence.

      Can you point me to any evidence that there is any benefit from putting pictures of children being raped on the internet? I can. Some peadopile’s really go in for that.

  9. maria lopez says:

    Where to begin. Im with you. And I thank you for this article, greatly. It needs to reach the eyes of editors and deciders and gatekeepers in the sector. It need to shake the twitersphere and all the bloody privileged yet ignorant people with cameras who roam around the planet like vultures and those who organise and perpetuate the bubble of photoland at any price. And now please excuse me, I need to go vomit.

  10. Andrew Molitor says:

    Are you seriously saying that a story without names, faces, dates, places, whatever else cannot be made more impactful by adding those? You stated this as, roughly, the logically equivalent contrapositive, where it sounds less silly. But as far as I can tell, that is what you said.

    The UNICEF guidelines read like a “how-to” on how to create vague, toothless, stories that will be attractive to westerners. I loved the suggestion to consult the non-existent responsible, trusted, adults. I loved the “when in doubt, resort to generalities”

    Look, I have daughters, and I think lensculture made a stupid, crass mistake. I think Datta’s photos from Sonagachi depict a terrible situation, one that ought to outrage and upset every human being.

    I also think having a bunch of white affluent westerners telling Souvid Datta how he ought to perform journalism is a mistake. I cannot but suspect that part of the problem Datta has is how his pictures reveal how ineffective western-led efforts to stop child trafficking have been. These pictures, while very uncomfortable for me to look at, must be much worse for Caryl Stern to see.

    Half a billion dollars a year funneled through UNICEF alone, and Sonagachi’s brothels soldiers on as if it did not exist. That’s got to sting a bit.

    • duckrabbit says:

      ‘Are you seriously saying that a story without names, faces, dates, places, whatever else cannot be made more impactful by adding those? You stated this as, roughly, the logically equivalent contrapositive, where it sounds less silly. But as far as I can tell, that is what you said’

      Maybe quote me where I seriously say that and then I can answer your question?

      Datta (who went to £32000 a year school Harrow) argues that there should be no ethics in journalism other than what he decides. But its a mistake if you point that out because of the color of your skin? If you want to believe that fine.

      I’m encouraged by the diversity of the people who are not OK with staging rape shots of child sex slaves.

      • Andrew Molitor says:

        Welp, I cannot find it. At some point you stated that your firm could teach people how to tell these kinds of stories in a fashion that complied with (for instance) UNICEF guidelines with just as much impact. Well, maybe you did, maybe you didn’t. I certainly *remember* it, but possibly I saw it someplace else. Anyways, I know a few things about both the plasticity of memory and things on the internet, so I’m just going to drop it.

        • duckrabbit says:

          Nope. But of course I accept your point about memory. I’ve done this many times. Normally I argue against not showing people. I think it can promote ideas of shame. Children are different.

      • Andrew Molitor says:

        I’m going to reply tangetially, though, however unfair and obnoxious a habit that is. Apologies in advance, I realize that I am moving goalposts, etc, and so forth.

        #1. It is, I think, unfair to characterize Datta’s work as being executed to “enter a contest”, this seems to be a serious long-term project with much larger goals than some crummy Magnum competition.

        #2. I don’t understand the repeated references to Harrow and privilege, in this context. Do these things make him white? Do they somehow negate Datta’s essentially Indian perspective? Or is is simply that Harrow is well known to turn people in to imbeciles?

        While I agree that class is underacknowledged, skin color tends to trump it in unserious conversation, I think we can acknowledge Datta’s class without denying his Indian-ness and the specific perspective it grants him. A perspective which we cannot fully know. It feels, here, as if his class is being used as an excuse to discount him, but as I say, perhaps I am missing some Harrow-specific subtext.

        Whatever the intent or meaning of the Harrow references, would roughly the same apply to a graduate of University College?

        • duckrabbit says:

          Thanks Andrew. He’s not taken down his twitter, Facebook and website because he’s been exposed for making stuff up.


          You make good points.

          • Andrew Molitor says:

            Yes, I’ve seen the great photoshop controversy. I’m disappointed. At best, he did a dumb pointless thing a couple years ago, which is something I dare say we can all relate to.

            Doesn’t mean it wasn’t dumb, though.

            And I’m not sure how much it reflects on anything else, but I do know I am going to noodle on it before I write anything much about it.

    • Lisa Lama Hogben says:

      Actually its just shit photography mate… Too much “Burn” and not enough ignite….

      • duckrabbit says:

        Right. Seen it all before. Sadly.

        • Lisa Lama Hogben says:

          Yep… and Datta is being held up as a hero of diversity… I think people are getting confused about the concept of “white privilege”…Its not about skin colour…A Harrow education gives you that

  11. Andrew Moore says:

    If this wasn’t all so bleak, it would be difficult not to smile at the otherworldly audacity of an Old Harrovian accusing others of paternalism. That comment alone – from somebody drawing upon such an immense reserve of wealth, power and connections – tells us all we need to know about Datta’s (un)suitability as an intermediary to tell the stories of others less privileged.

  12. Lisa Lama Hogben says:

    Hi guys, long time no contact… Sorry life has been, er, interesting for the last six or so years…I am so glad you have written about this…I have a particular hatred for photographers on the make that target vulnerable populations because they are easy to get at, by that I mean vulnerable people rarely have any boundaries or defence systems in place to protect themselves and are so accessible…”White privilege” rarely has a problem with this as they resort to legal means if they are photographed “in flagrante delicto”… I see it time and time again… and I personally am appalled by the low level of editorial and curatorial understanding of what makes a good photograph and what is just a sensationalisation and actual abuse of people who have no way of defending themselves. While there are laws that govern photographing minors that have been put in place in most western countries (and if this image was published here I believe it could contravene Australian Child Sex Abuse Laws) I find it even more reprehensible than ever that “white privileged” camera wielding fame junkies think they can rock up in someone else’s country and photograph whoever it is, exposing those people to derision and infamy on the world wide web, just because, well, they can. And they get patted on the back for it. I know of a particularly untalented photographer, working in Australia, who did a number on a very tiny community and was awarded all sorts of shit worldwide for taking photographs that smacked of “White Mission* Manager”. By taking the photographs she did, she perpetuated a particular visual ideology that is wrong, about “victim porn” and not in the slightest representative of the proud and indefatigable people I know. But then…. I do know this particular mob because I have had 30 years of people teaching me, kindly, gently and with so much patience that this community are NOT victims….So whoever chose to publish this image needs A/Their arse kicked for being so dumb B/They need to actually speak to someone whose life has been destroyed by childhood sexual abuse and C/They need to be kindly, gently and patiently taught what is right and what is wrong…For the woman whose photo was used in this manner? Where ever you are I am sending my biggest love and thoughts…but for the photographer who has climbed the ladder on her back… I hope (and I bet you did anyway) paid her well…Ooosh! I’m back! Love you guys! (*This is a very colloquial reference but essentially means that the Missionaries who colonised and brought Christian religions to those “heathen” tribes, set up structures to preserve the sanctity of their own position whilst engulfing land and disempowering Indigenous peoples world wide. Thus the “Mission Manager” is someone that believes they are somehow superior and is bending down to lend a hand to those beneath them while enforcing their “gate-keeping” position as a conduit to “god”…)

  13. Andrew Molitor says:

    Since there seem to be quite a few people with domain specific knowledge here, I am going to abuse your hospitality again and pose a question. Answers, if any, will inform my thinking, and I will probably write something (albeit in a venue nobody much reads), so, that’s my disclosure.

    Does anyone think that Datta got the *basics* of the story wrong? Set aside what he did or did not fabricate. Maybe he made up all the names, all the details, all the “consent” and so on.

    Was he basically right in depicting what it’s actually like in a brothel in Sonagachi? Or is there also a “no, the women do not interact like that, the clients are not like that, it’s not *like* *that*”

    Or did he get the essential character of the situation right?

  14. Laura Nesi says:

    i totally agree the fight against human trafficking sex slavery and slavery at all(is the bigger word businnes of today)and im an activist Against slavery but iif is true a sold sex slave is always raped is also true at the time of the pic shes just “working” and the harms of the girl around the chest of the rapist makes me think the photografer is just a reporter and shes not offended by him…

  15. Andrew Moore says:

    Regarding the Mary Ellen Mark photoshop revelation, I think it’s worth pointing out that when I first saw the image that sparked the initial controversy I immediately thought I was looking at a restaging of this famous Wayne Miller photograph:


    I suspect that there are almost endless layers to this disturbing situation.

  16. Andres C. says:

    It brings back memories of the terrible and disgusting case of unethical behavior by the Italian photographer Marco Vernaschi, another a clear violation of children’s rights, women’s rights as well as the disrespect to their relatives.
    There are people that would do almost anything to get awarded, to be published, to get famous or wealthy. A very good example of a total lack of ethics from a photographer who has won the World Press Photo Award, in the News category … https://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2010/apr/21/ethics-press-freedom

  17. John Louis Lassen Perry says:

    Very sad, and outrageously thoughtless, on so many levels. But not so strange, in the sense that images are now almost things in themselves, divorced from context, talismans of unearned and unexamined experience, plastered everywhere, reused, recaptioned, repurposed in every which way, provided they have “impact” or “style”. A pretty actress in bloody make-up for a zombie film turns up as a ‘Trump supporter attacked by Liberals”, or crowds at a sporting event become “political demonstrators” or (worst of all) a young woman’s harrowing life in forced sex slavery becomes a disturbing (and yet “colorful” and “cutting edge”) advertisement for a contest intended to fleece the rubes. All surface, just visual commodities, two dimensional plays of form and color to arrest eyes roving over endless social media posts, and meaning whatever the poster wants them to mean.

    Photographs are seen and yet barely noticed much of the time. Forget the image. What or who does it contain? The young woman in Souvid Datta’s images in this case, is not a symbol, not merely an image. Looking at her face, I wonder if perhaps she consented to Datta’s presence because she hoped to say something to those who saw her image. And it was not something about sending $60 in to a photo contest.

    She’s a brave young woman, if she is as Datta says. It would seem very dangerous to do what she has done. I hope she is O.K. I wonder if she hoped that taking this risk might spur some kind of action, or at least awareness. I always thought that was what photojournalism was for. Were I to meet her, knowing how her image has been used, I’d be too ashamed to look her in the eye. We have let her down.

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