No smiles for the world: Lifted photo spoils contest

The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - An amateur photographer apologized yesterday and withdrew his participation in a photo contest after it was found that the entry that won him the top prize belonged to a Brazil-based social worker.

Mark Joseph Solis, a political science graduate of the University of the Philippines who is currently studying public administration also in UP, won $1,000 plus round-trip air fare and accommodations to Chile and Brazil for the entry he called “The Mettle of the Filipino Spirit.”

The entry in the 2nd Calidad Humana National Essay Photography Competition organized by the embassy of Chile, with the theme “Smiles for the World,” supposedly depicted a boy from Zamboanga City helping his father gather seaweed.

The contest was supposed to celebrate uniquely Filipino human qualities or calidad humana. The STAR ran the story after the awarding ceremonies last Wednesday that coincided with the National Day of Chile.

After the story came out, however, Gregory John Smith, a social entrepreneur with the global network Ashoka and founder of the Children at Risk Foundation in Brazil, said it was his photo.

“The photo was actually taken by me in Brazil in 2006, whilst on Christmas holidays at the coast together with four brothers from the same poverty-stricken family in Brazil, who were supported by our program at the time,” Smith told GMA News Online. “The photo was taken by me on a beach in Paraty, Rio de Janeiro, whilst the kids were having fun chucking seaweed at each other.”

He pointed to his Flickr account featuring the same photo, dated 2006 and titled “Neptune of the Sea,” together with photos of other children in Brazil.

Solis admitted lifting the photo from Flickr.

“I’m deeply sorry. I’m in deep remorse. Right now, I already contacted the organizers and I’m about to contact the owner to personally convey to him my deepest and personal apology,” Solis told Rappler.

In a comment he posted on Rappler, Smith suggested that Chile’s Ambassador Roberto Mayorga give the prize instead to his foundation, which also helps children in the Philippines.

Smith said he would be visiting Manila early next year for a project in Manila’s Smokey Mountain.

Rappler reported that it was not the first time Solis had joined a photo contest with an entry taken by another person.

He also entered Smith’s photo in the United Nations International Year of Water Cooperation contest, with the child identified as an Indian. In the same contest, Solis entered a second photo also lifted from the Flickr album of the Children At Risk Foundation.

Photos lifted from other people’s Flickr accounts were also entered by Solis in competitions organized by Papworth Trust, VinylPlus and even the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Rappler reported.

In a letter to “Sir Gregory” posted on Rappler, Solis blamed his “youth, lack of experience, and the inability to see the repercussions of my actions” for “a regrettable lapse on my judgment.”

“I am writing to you to express my deep remorse and sincerest apologies for claiming your photo as mine,” Solis wrote. “No words can express how sorry I am...”

He said the photo was “one of the most heartwarming” he had seen and he kept it as wallpaper in his computer – “an enduring reminder of what every amateur photographer should aspire for.”

“The sheer amount of the prize, the stiff competition, and the unique opportunity to be abroad blinded me from undertaking what is supposed to be an honest and a rightful conduct,” Solis wrote.

A saddened Mayorga told The STAR last night that he would meet with the other principal sponsors of the contest, among them UP, to decide their next move. He said he believed Solis did not represent the majority of Filipinos.

The STAR was a media partner in the contest, which received about 500 entries.

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