The fates were smiling on him. Born in Calcutta, Souvid Datta had been living in London since the age of 10. A young photojournalist, he had garnered several prestigious prizes for reports in China, Afghanistan, or Iraqi Kurdistan. He seemed destined for a wonderful career.
Working for an NGO in Calcutta, he met young women who had escaped prostitution. He was convinced that he’d found his great subject, the one that would tour the world and reveal the condition of these modern slaves, minors who are kidnapped and forced into prostitution.
His images were powerful. Souvid Datta told his story with conviction about these child-women victimised by crime rings. Our first meeting was a real pleasure. He won us over with his angel face and the smile that erupted over it. His features and gestures inspired confidence. We were prepared to publish his report in 6Mois. But he already had an agreement with one of our colleagues for a few pages. We preferred to abandon the idea.
Each report in 6Mois requires a long period of discussion with the photographer and an additional investigation. This is why we prefer to launch into new subjects, unchartered terrain for our readers. There are enough good reports out there for newspapers not to publish the same images. The French magazine was published, with a few strong images between two advertisements and other reports. We forgot about Souvid Datta.
Then the scandal broke out. Abroad, many sites and newspapers had published the work of the motivated young photographer. In India, a woman living in Bangalore noticed a detail. A photo that was supposed to represent a certain “Asma” seemed strangely familiar. “A social worker for these sex workers and a great admirer of the work of photographer Mary Ellen Mark on the Indian red-light districts in the 1970s, Shreya Bhat realised that she had already come across the face of Asma somewhere. Not on a street corner in Calcutta, but in one of Mary Ellen Mark’s images...” describes journalist Lise Lanot.
Mary Ellen Mark was a member of the Magnum agency and is notably the author of a long-term report about Tiny, a young prostitute from Seattle, which we published under the title “Her Majesty of the Streets” in issue 11 of 6Mois.
Souvid Datta had quite simply slipped this figure out of Mary Ellen Mark’s photos and inserted her into his own report. When asked to explain this manipulation by Time LightBox, the photography website of American magazine Time, Souvid Datta admitted it, but pleaded his good faith, in a convoluted line of argument, in which he claimed to pay tribute and that he had come up with this solution in order to get around the refusal of one of the women he had photographed to be revealed publicly.
The necessity to alert popular opinion regarding an unbearable reality had won over the value of veracity. Alas, his claim was shattered by a host of new revelations, presenting other “loans” made by the photographer. It was not an isolated error, but a system, stupefying and childish, as the DIY usurper had helped himself from among the greats.
Souvid Datta went off eyes shining towards new adventures. He will no longer send enthusiastic messages and will no longer show his work to publishers the world over. But there is no doubt that he’ll bounce back. Manipulators never stop.
Laurent Beccaria, Patrick de Saint-Exupéry, Marie-Pierre Subtil