BEIJING - The organizers of the Golden Lens Award, the highest honor in China's photography circle, has launched an investigation into a disputed photo that won a top prize last week.
The result will be released on Monday, the organizing committee told China Daily on Sunday.
Zhang Yi, the photographer who took the photo, titled it "Holding corpse for money."
It won China's top news photography prize at the Golden Lens Award ceremony last Wednesday in Qingdao, Shandong province.
The picture was taken on Oct 24, 2009, after three college students drowned when they tried to rescue two children who had fallen into the river in Jingzhou, Hubei province.
The three who drowned had joined hands with 11 other students to form a human chain to pull the two children from the turbulent currents. The two children returned to shore safe, but three of the college students lost their lives.
The three students got a grand memorial service later and their story got huge coverage nationwide.
In the award-winning photo, one of the fishermen stands on the boat deck shaking his hand with a defiant look on his face, while the corpse of one of the drowned students floats in the water with one arm fastened to the boat.
In information about the photo, Zhang wrote that the fisherman was trying to get money from people on the shore before he would deliver the dead body.
Zhang, who was a photographer with the local Jianghan Commercial Daily, first published the photo in Shaanxi-based Chinese Business View using the name "Zhen Zhen".
Zhang's real identity was revealed later after the photo received several photography awards and he had left Jingzhou because of the mounting pressure caused by his photo.
On the day after the ceremony, the photo was criticized by Li Yuquan, head of the publicity department of Yangtze University, where the drowned students studied .
Li said the photo showed an incomplete picture of the events that day and that the photo and its information were misleading.
He argued that the fishermen on the two boats were cooperating with each other to capture the bodies. When they picked up a body, they tied the hand or foot to the boat so the body wouldn't fall into the water again.
"The one in white waving his hand was trying to communicate with his fellow associates on the bank, but he was not bargaining with them," Li said on his blog at sohu.com.
Li asked the committee for the Golden Lens Award to strip Zhang Yi of his award.
In response to Li's claim, Zhang released the entire set of his photos that day to the media on Sunday. He said the process of salvaging the bodies lasted more than two hours and was delayed for half an hour as the fishermen wanted to see the money before delivering the bodies.
Hao Jianguo, a reporter with the Chinese Business View, who was at the site and witnessed the entire event, issued a statement on his blog that supported the photographer.
He explained that the photo shows a salvager named Wang Shouhai who stopped retrieving the three bodies because he didn't get the entire promised 36,000 yuan.
As shown in the photo, Wang hovered a long time instead of taking the corpse onto the boat, which intentionally made other students and teachers anxious and worried. He delayed bringing the corpse in so he could get the full reward, Hao explained.
Chen Bo, the boss of the salvage team, was placed under administrative detention for 15 days and fined 1,000 yuan for extortion by local police last November.
The organizing committee of the Golden Lens Award announced on Saturday on its website that it had set up an investigation team to probe the case and called for evidence from eyewitnesses.
One of the judges of the award, Wang Wenlan, the vice-chairman of China Photographers Association, said that the winning photo vividly reflects an intense scene and the perspective is unique, the Beijing Morning Post reported on Sunday.
Evidence collected by the organizing committee, photographer and witnesses will clarify the case, Wang said.
The Golden Lens Award is the top prize in China's domestic news photography.
Jin Haixing and Guo Rui contributed to the story.