When the judges of the Jerwood Photography Awards saw Paul Plews's works modelled on the paintings of Vermeer, he found himself a winner.
But the £2,000 award has been withdrawn after an argument over the creative process and whether Plews's stylist on the project should have been credited as his collaborator.
Marieta Tsenova did not even know the work had been entered for the prize until she saw it on the cover of a magazine and contacted the prize-givers to claim it as partially her own.
Roanne Dods, director of the Jerwood Charitable Foundation which funds the award, said they were "obviously very disappointed" but felt they had no choice but to ask for the return of the money.
Members of the prize jury examined Tsenova's CV as a creative director and stylist and were convinced she had been a genuine collaborator on the work.
She insisted that she had originally developed the concept and had contacted Plews asking him to participate. Friends were involved in the project and preparatory work - including establishing the style "somewhere between a theatre-costume play and [a] contemporary tale" - was carried out before Plews was involved, she claimed. For the photographer to call the work "his" was "unethical", she added.
Plews admitted Tsenova's participation and suggested she be credited as stylist. But as he had not mentioned her originally and as she was not personally eligible for the award - open only to recent graduates of UK visual arts degree courses - the prize jury ruled his work ineligible.
Ms Dods said the creative process was an important part of the prize which was presented "on the basis of originality and excellence". "These prizes are for artists working in the medium of photography," she said. Collaborations are permissible as long as both partners are recent graduates.
But raising an argument at least as old as the thorny subject of Old Masters and their workshop helpers, Plews, 26, says the Jerwood jury failed to understand the photographic process. "It is irrelevant that I worked with a stylist to produce these pictures. Does this decision mean that I, or future entrants, have to declare that any models and hair and make-up artists used to produce these pictures meet the criteria for the awards?
"I am the author of these pictures and I met the criteria for the awards. Therefore it is not relevant to mention the stylist, models or hair and make-up artists that I worked with on the entry form."
Gwen Thomas, of the Association of Photographers, said: "There is no question that Paul is the legitimate author of the photographs."
An exhibition of work from the 2006 Jerwood Awards was displayed in London and will tour to galleries around the UK starting at the Stills Gallery in Edinburgh in May.Reuse content