As traditional sources of assignments shrink their budgets, photographers are seeking new ways to fund their work. That’s created stiff competition for photo grants, and has led to loads of photographers clamoring to get their crowdfunding campaigns noticed and supported.
Photographers who have found a variety of ways to support their work have shared their advice and experience with PDN over the years. The articles and tips are available to PDN subscribers via PDNOnline.com (log in required).
Near the start of what would become “Copia,” his decade-long project examining American consumerism, photographer Brian Ulrich got some useful advice from photo dealer Sarah Hasted about building support for his work: “It doesn’t matter if they don’t like it, just show it to them.” Ulrich explains, “So I would make trips to New York and just try and get the work in front of people and it didn’t necessarily matter if it was editorial or if it was an art gallery or it was a collector.” On shooting for magazines, he says, “If the assignment was two days, I could make it four and work on my things once their things were done. That stuff was crucial because those were like mini fellowships.” Ulrich also explains how he maintained momentum on the many aspects of the series, which became an exhibition and a monograph published in 2011 by Aperture.
Photographer Sara Terry, founder of the Aftermath Project, estimates she has won grants totaling nearly $1 million over the last 15 years. She has become a professional grant writer, and says photographers need to write in a way that explains their proposal clearly, conversationally and with immediacy. “You’re not writing for Congressmen or bankers. You want to be able to communicate in a clear and dynamic way to someone you care about.” She also offers advice on how to determine what grant jurors and foundations are looking for from year to year.
Scout Tufankjian explains how she created a Kickstarter campaign for her book on the Armenian Diaspora that earned $60,000 and expanded the scope of her work. In building connections with potential donors, Facebook and direct emails proved to be the photographer’s most effective tools. She was helped by the fact that she had already invested time and money into producing photos around the world, giving donors the feeling they were helping to “push it over the top, rather than helping something get off the ground.”
Gerd Ludwig’s Kickstarter campaign to fund his book, The Long Shadow of Chernobyl, far exceeded its goal, thanks in part to the timeliness of his story, but in the process, he says, he met some unexpected challenges when it came to delivering rewards to his funders around the world.
When fine-art photographer Manjari Sharma turned to Kickstarter to fund production of new images in her “Darshan” series depicting Hindu deities, she managed to get 70 percent of her funding from strangers, but notes that communicating and following up with donors “was more time-consuming than I had ever imagined.”
Over about four years, Habib raised $250,000 for production, distribution and outreach from charitable foundations and disability groups interested in using Including Samuel, Habib’s 2008 advocacy film, to reach audiences of students, parents, educators and medical professionals. Featuring Habib’s son, the film addresses the benefits and challenges of including physically challenged kids in regular school settings. Habib and two other documentary photographers explain how—and why—they partnered with educational institutions, advocacy groups, healthcare companies, and others who recognize the power of photojournalism to disseminate a message.
Founded in 2006 to support investigative journalism in the wake of newsroom budget cuts and shrinking opportunities for freelance assignments, the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting has supported a variety of documentary photo essays—typically shot by a photographer working in collaboration with a writer to produce images and text on under-covered issues. The Pulitzer Center provides both financial support for producing the work and also helps promote the finished work on a number of platforms. In this interview with PDN, the center’s managing director Nathalie Applewhite explains how the non-profit supports production of new documentary projects and how photojournalists can strengthen their proposals.
Grant makers supporting projects on environmental issues include a mix of photo-centric nonprofits and some broader organizations with a track record of supporting visual journalism.
Artist in residency programs vary widely in the amenities they offer to a photographer, but the common factor is that they provide an artist with the means and time to focus solely on a project in the works. Whether they are sponsored by a small arts organization or a government-funded agency, each has an appeal—be it beautiful facilities, a helpful staff, a generous stipend, an idyllic setting or post-residence exhibition opportunities. PDN interviewed five artists to learn how they landed, and benefitted, from artist in residency programs.
Worth up to $10,000 each, the grants support contemporary photographers, and the application is relatively easy. Applicants aren’t required to explain how they will use the award, or get letters of recommendation. The judging guidelines are broad. But competition for the grants is fierce. PDN asked past jurors about their process of evaluating the submissions they saw, and past winners described what they submitted.
The photographer had been a finalist for the grant twice before, and applied “probably 8 or 10 times.” His win in 2014 was about more than persistence: Sywenkyj explains how he refined his written proposal and how he organized a portfolio that reflected his commitment to his subjects.
Since launching its Artist Initiative program last March, Visual Supply Co (VSCO) has awarded grants to support a variety of new projects by at least 14 artists, including nine photographers. The process is decidedly less-formal than that of most other photography grants. And so far, VSCO has awarded most of the grants to emerging photographers whose work straddles the boundary between documentary and fine-art photography. Josh Wool and brothers Chris and Jon Schoonover explain how they approached VSCO for support.
Before crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter took off, photographers were generating their own funds by appealing directly to groups of private donors, including friends and strangers. Photographers Jason Florio, Rachel Sussman (creator of “The Oldest Living Things in the World” series), and Rob Hornstra explain how they set a fundraising goal, the information they shared with funding partners, and how they built communities of people interested in the subjects they were covering.