CATHEDRAL CITY, Calif. – 21-year-old Cathedral City photographer, Sean McGee, describes the moment he took this picture of a Palm Springs sunrise as mind-blowing.
The photo, taken off of Tahquitz Canyon, won third place in a nationwide photography contest put on by Westways Magazine, the primary communication tool of the Automobile Club of Southern California.
The problem is, McGee never entered the contest.
“When I found out and I saw my photo in a magazine, it was like the best-worst thing to ever happen to me,” McGee said.
Someone else had submitted the photo, took credit for it, and won a prize.
“Right then and there, I was just completely shocked and heartbroken. The fact that someone took my hard work and put their name on it was just unbelievable to me,” McGee said.
McGee might have never known about it if it weren’t for one of his 11,000 Instagram followers.
“I just saw your photo in a magazine contest credited to someone else. I’ll send you a pick. The mag is Oct. 2017 Westway edition by Triple-A,” Mcgee recalled the post said.
McGee said he immediately looked for a copy of the magazine and couldn’t believe his eyes. He then contacted the magazine shortly afterward and sent in all the proof he had that the photo was his, but it can’t undo the disappointment he felt.
The publisher of Westways Magazine told KESQ / CBS Local 2’s Katie Widner that the woman who submitted the photo says she made a mistake and thought the photo was hers.
The woman has apologized and returned the prize. We were not able to locate her.
After our inquiry today, the magazine said they plan to republish the photo in their next edition with the proper credit.
Westways Magazine released a full statement on the matter:
The Automobile Club of Southern California’s member publication Westways Magazine has produced the Westways Photo Contest for four years. Through the photo contest, we have shared photos taken by members with other members.
Last weekend, we received notice from a few members in the Coachella Valley that the third place photo was not owned by the person who submitted it. We immediately opened an investigation and began communicating with both parties who claimed the photo.
The investigation was concluded this afternoon. The member who submitted the photo said that they made a mistake and thought the photo was theirs. They apologized and said it was not intentional. The member is returning the prizes awarded. We are working with the owner of the photo to reach a resolution.
In addition, we will reprint the photo with the proper credit in the November/December issue of Westways Magazine.
In the years we’ve conducted the photo contest we have never had an issue with a photo submission and we have relied upon our trusted members. Nevertheless, we are currently reviewing our verification process to avoid similar issues in the future.
Tamara Hill – Publisher, Westways