It was only yesterday that we covered the winning images of the CEWE Photo Awards 2023. However, the “candid” overall winning photo has raised eyebrows today. The winner of the “world’s largest photo competition” was now found to be staged.
Indonesian photographer Dikye Ariani won the first prize in the contest for her photo of a woman playing cards. Other than the flattering title, she also won the grand prize worth over $25,000. The competition, themed “Our world is beautiful,” showcased Ariani’s portrayal of a traditional Indonesian café, “Warung Kopi.”
The description accompanying the photo painted a vivid picture: “The proprietress, the sole woman in the scene, welcomes the men from the village after a hard day’s work in the rice fields.” CEWE Board Member Thomas Mehls said that the image conveyed “an authentic glimpse into everyday life in Indonesia” and captured “the beauty of the moment.” But as it turned out, the glimpse into the everyday life was not authentic at all.
The plot twist
PetaPixel found out that Adriani’s photo was, in fact, not a spontaneous documentary shot. She took it during a conceptual photo shoot, marking the launch of the Fujifilm X-T5 camera in Bogor, Indonesia. The information came from Budi, the owner of the studio where the shoot took place.
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Budi expressed his surprise about this image winning the contest. Speaking with PetaPixel, he said that “The Waroeng Kopi concept” was a concept that he’d created during a promotional event for the Fujifilm X-T5 camera launch. “I act as a mentor and conceptor who organizes the venue setup, lighting, and costumes as well as preparing the talent,” he added. “One of my workshop participants was Dikye who apparently won the CEWE photo contest.”
The plot thickens as other photographers who attended the same workshop began sharing strikingly similar photos from the event.
Were the rules broken?
The CEWE Photo Awards, in its guidelines, states:
In our photo competitions, a variable number of self-taken photos can be submitted that are photographic or lens-based and represent the motif and the essential image content in an unaltered and realistic manner. This means no photos generated by artificial intelligence, for example. In addition, the participant must own the unrestricted copyrights and rights of use and the motifs must not contradict the legal provisions of the country of origin, legal provisions of the European Union or the personal rights of persons depicted.
Judging from this, it remains uncertain whether Ariani violated any rules. In fact, she probably didn’t. However, the way this photo was described certainly is misleading. It’s definitely not “an authentic glimpse into everyday life.”
This incident mirrors a similar controversy from 2019 when Malaysian photographer Edwin Ong Wee Kee won the esteemed Hamdan International Photography Award (HIPA). His photo earned him the grand prize of $120,000, but it was also later revealed to be staged. It also reminded me of the time when the BBC staged some scenes in their 2011 series Human Planet. And perhaps you remember the stuffed anteater that won the 2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition.
We have reached out to the CEWE Photo Awards and Dikye Ariani. None of them have replied at the time of publication, but we will update the article if we hear back.
[Update November 15, 2023: CEWE has suspended Dyke Ariani over a staged photo. You can read the full statement here.]