SIBU: Fresh from winning the grand prize in the recent 8th Hamdan International Photography Award 2019 (HIPA), Sibu-born photographer Edwin Ong Kee Wee is not resting on his laurels.
Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Ong, 45, said he would be using the prize money of US$120,000 (RM504,000) to buy a better camera and accessories that would enable him to take better photos and perhaps win more awards.
The HIPA award was launched in 2011 to honour the art of photography and promote social awareness and its fundamental role in shaping the future of civilisations. It is supported by the Crown Prince of Dubai Sheikh Hamdan Rashid Mohammed al Maktoum.
“Hope” was the theme for this year’s contest which was participated by photographers from all over the world.
The award presentation took place in Dubai on March 13.
Ong’s winning photo documented an intense humanitarian moment which showed the feelings of a Vietnamese mother whose speech disorder did not prevent her from feeling hopeful and evoking a sense of strength for her children.
In the first place was Fanny Octavianus from Indonesia while his compatriot Muhammad Fahrur Rasyid captured the second place. Third was Wissam Nassar from Palestine while Vito Finocchiaro from Italy took fourth place, leaving the fifth place to his compatriot Sandro Maddalena.
“I am planning to buy Sony A7R3 mirrorless camera body (RM13,000). It has the best lens so far,” added Ong.
He has loved photography since his school days but had to borrow cameras from his friends as he did not have the money to buy one.
“When I started to take up photogarphy seriously in 2010, I bought a Nikon D7000 camera and further improved it to a D750. Then I bought a D50 which I used to shoot my winnng entry in HIPA,” he added.
His victory, he said, had brought pride to Malaysia as it was the first time that a photographer from Malaysia emerged as the grand prize winner.
A MPSA (Master of Photographic Society of America), Ong hoped his victory would inspire photographers to take better pictures of the country.
“I wish photographers in the country will come together to shoot more beautiful pictures of the country to promote Malaysia,” he added
Ong participated in the HIPA six times previously but did not win anything.
“At the award ceremony, when the emcee announced the winners for the fifth to second prizes, I felt disappointed as my name was not among them. When I asked the organiser, I was told there was a big surprise for me,” he recalled.
Ong believed he had won the grand prize as his photo showed a better facial expression of the woman. The photo was taken in a rice field in northern Vietnam in May 2018.
Ong also slammed commentators who alleged that his winning photo was staged.
An international photographer Etienne Bossot claimed that the winning photo was of “an organised staged model” for the shoot.
He said this in an article on his Pics of Asia blog entitled “Are you doing it for the photography or for fame?”
In refuting this allegation, Ong said the photo was taken spontaneously in a rice field in northern Vietnam in May last year.
“Staged or not, I don’t care as my photo shows my photography skill in showing the motherly love of the woman for her children,” he said.
Ong also rubbished allegation by Etienne that the woman was “assaulted by rude photographers.”
“We, a group of about 20 photographers, were taken to a rice field by our tour guides. A woman in her 30s happened to be there with her two children. The tour guide asked her whether we could take her photo. She willingly obliged. We gave her tips after the 50-minute shooting session. Even when we left, she was still there,” he said.
Ong planned to meet the woman in his next trip to Vietnam next year.
“I will try to find her. Right now, even our tour guide do not know her name and location,” he said.