Competition for photo grants is fierce. The top grants can attract hundreds of applications, forcing jurors to screen ruthlessly to select winners and runners-up. This year, 480 photographers submitted applications for the Getty Images Editorial Grants. One of the four jurors for those grants was Chelsea Matiash, senior photo editor at The Intercept. She shared her insight about this year’s Getty Editorial Grant winners in the February issue of PDN (See “How I Got That Grant: A Winner’s Strategy for a $10K Getty Editorial Grant”). She also offered invaluable advice about applying for photo grants that we were unable to include in the print edition. Here’s what she told us:
1. Submit a complete proposal. “Jurors don’t want to know just what you want to do, but why you want to do it and how you’re going to do it,” Matiash says. “People who submit a body of work that supports the proposed idea, with a concise plan of how they’ll make the photographs and when—those applications float to the top. Specify what contacts you already have, how you will get to the story and navigate it, and how you will get access to subjects. Particularly if you haven’t started the project, jurors need to hear in your proposal how you’re going to execute it.”
2. Make sure your project idea is fresh. “Some applicants have been working on a project for years, and that leaves jurors wondering: How will this grant funding make a difference in how this story is being told if you have no end in sight? We jurors hope to have impact by enabling photographers to tell stories that wouldn’t otherwise be told.”
3. Tailor your application for a specific grant. Applicants for the 2017 Getty Editorial Grants “that wowed jurors had clearly thought about their idea, and crafted their proposal for this grant,” Matiash says. “A lot of photographers treat grant applications like a resume or a college common application, and they don’t tailor it for the specific grant they’re applying for. They assume the images speak for themselves and neglect the written part of the proposal. Other times photographers treat a grant proposal like a contest entry, with a project description, but little or nothing about how they’re going to execute it distribute the work.” (See Tip #1).
4. Avoid long, meandering introductions to your written proposal. “When I was in photojournalism school, I had a teacher who said: ‘If you can’t tell me what you want to do in one sentence, then you don’t know what you want to do,’” Matiash says. “That’s a little brutal. It can be more than one sentence, but if you can’t tell me concisely and you have to go into all this back story [about your project], maybe it’s not a fully-formed idea yet.”
5. Submit images that support your proposal—ideally images that show you’ve started the project. But for grants such as the Getty Editorial Grant, which is available for project not yet started, “image submission of previous work has to convince judges you can execute,” Matiash says. That previous work has to reflect the style and tone of the work you propose to shoot, she explains.
6. Describe your publication/distribution plan, whether you want to publish a book, place the work in a magazine or newspaper, or exhibit in galleries, museums or other public spaces. “To not have a publication plan makes your proposal a lot weaker,” Matiash says. “We want to know that we are funding work that’s going to get out into the world.”
7. You can’t win if you don’t apply. “Photographers make ambitious pitches to editors that the editors can’t fund alone, but with a grant partner, those projects might be possible,” Matiash says. She adds that she has fielded pitches from photographers that would have had a good chance of winning a Getty Grant. “And those applications [for those projects] weren’t there. That killed me…make time for [grant applications] the same way you make time for doing your taxes. Be thorough, and be on time, and do it if the work is important to you.”