In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom.
But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line,
deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
1 – Introduction
In mid-2014 Kevin Raber and Michael Reichmann, respectively publishers and founders of Luminous-landscape.com, created the Luminous Endowment for Photographers. The Endowment is a charitable fund whose goal is to provide financial assistance through grants to help deserving photographers worldwide fulfill their vision and complete their projects.
I was invited to be one of the judges for the Luminous Endowment for Photographers. This is a non-paid position that I accepted because I want to return something to the photographic community.
2 – My experience
The first round of applications took place in the fall of 2014 and the winners were announced in late November 2014. As a judge I had to provide my selection of winning entries by November 15th.
This was my first experience judging entries for grant applications. Having judging experience is useful to decide who gets the awards, so I asked Natalie, my wife, to help me because she had been a contest judge on several occasions before. However, the final decision was entirely mine.
Overall I found the judging process both enlightening and frustrating. I also found that many applicants missed being included in my final selection because of the issues that plagued their applications.
This is unfortunate because it denied grants to applicants who may have qualified but were not selected because they did not properly follow the grant application rules.
These issues fell into several categories. The goal of this essay is to list each category, describe the problems and offer solutions. This compendium is based solely on my experience as a judge. I make no claim whatsoever to cover every possible issue generated by the grant application process.
3 – Consensus
Before communicating with the other judges and getting the final results, I was wondering if there would be a consensus among judges about the winning entries. I later found out that in this instance there was no real consensus among judges. This may be due to the number of applications, upwards of 80 for the Luminous-Landscape grant alone for example. Or it may be due to the judges having very different backgrounds and expectations regarding what good photography should be like. Only time will tell if the next round of applications brings a consensus or not.
4 – Follow the Rules
I found that the problem which affected the majority of applicants was not following the grant applications rules. I understand that as artists we like to break the rules. However, what will get you in the running for a grant is demonstrating that you are willing to meet the required grant criteria.
In other words your grant application must meet the grant guidelines. What your project consists of can be creative, it can even break the rules of art. However, your application must meet the guidelines for acceptance otherwise it will be rejected and excluded from the list of potential winners.
The criteria for each grant are clearly stated in each grant application documents. If you have questions simply email the person in charge of the application process.
5 – A grant is not a shopping spree
Keep in mind that the purpose of a charitable grant is not not to provide an opportunity to shop. Neither is it angel funding for developing a new product, for starting a business or for conducting other income-producing goals.
Instead, the purpose of a charitable grant is to give the recipient the means they need to create photographs, express their vision and complete specific artistic projects.
6 – Explain how you intend to use the funds
When a financial component is part of the award, the goal of this component is to help photographers express their artistic vision. Therefore, explaining how you intend to use the grant money will go a long ways towards making judges feel comfortable with your use of the funds.
As we just saw, the primary use of the grant money is not to purchase a new camera and lens, or buy software, or pay for self-publishing a book, or attend a workshop or engage in other similar endeavors.
While any of these purchases can be made for the purpose of expressing and demonstrating a personal vision, in order to do so they need to be part of a vision-based goal. In short these purchases must be the means to an end, not an end in itself.
Therefore, projects such as ’I will use the grant money to attend a workshop in Iceland’, or ‘I will use the grant money to purchase a new camera and lens’ or ‘I will use this grant to pay for publishing my book’ are not appropriate when applying for a charitable grant.
Instead, projects such as ‘I will use the grant money to photograph the landscape and the culture of Iceland in the first part of the 21st century and attending a workshop to Iceland will be one of the ways I will complete this project’ or ‘I will use the grant money to photograph the native Iranian culture in new york city and part of the money will be used for travel and incidentals as well as to purchase a camera and lens adapted to this type of photography,’ or ‘I will photograph all the water towers in Wisconsin, with the goal of producing a photography book from the project, and I will use part of the funds to pay for travel, incidentals, layout software and book publishing’ are appropriate because they place the vision-oriented goals of the project first and the means and tools through which these projects will be completed second.
7 – Be realistic about the amount of money you are seeking
Make sure that your project requires the amount of funding provided by the grant. Seeking a $5000 grant to complete an eBook using photographs taken prior to the grand is overkill. On the other hand seeking a $5000 grant for a project that requires $10,000 to complete is insufficient.
In the first instance you need to either seek a grant for a smaller amount or make your project more complex. In the second instance you need to either reduce the cost of your project or provide evidence that you already have the other $5000.
8 – Select your photographs carefully
When you are applying for a photography-related grant, the photographs you include in your application will play a major role in making your application stand out. This means selecting these photographs carefully. Doing so means doing the following:
– Make sure your photographs match the text of your application. Including photographs of wildlife or architecture when describing a landscape-photography project does not work for example.
– Include only your best photographs. A bad photograph of a rare subject is not as impressive as a good photograph of a known subject. Remember you are judged on the quality of your work, not on your ability to find rare subject matter.
– Include a description of the photographs you intend to create. This is particularly important if you have not started on your project already, or if the photographs you intend to create are significantly different from the ones you are including in your application.
9 – State your experience
Have you done photography for a year, a lifetime or somewhere in between? This is important information for the judges because it gives us information about your experience, your level of commitment and your potential for success.
There is something good about both situations. Having practiced photography for a long time shows a high level of commitment. Being new to photography often brings with it excitement and passion. However your goals must be adequate for your level of experience. Setting realistic goals gives judges confidence that you can achieve what you describe in your application.
10 – Explain what the final project will consist of
Knowing what your final project consists of helps judges evaluate the validity of your application because it says a lot about your level of commitment and your need for funding. Working on a touring exhibition is a lot more complex than creating an eBook. While both are valid outcomes for a project, the former requires more efforts and involves higher costs, two aspects that are significant when estimating the need for a grant.
11 – Mention any significant interest in your work
Do you know significant individuals that are interested in publishing or exhibiting your project, or who are supportive of your project in other ways? Knowing this is important for the judges because knowing that significant people or photographic institutions like your work and stand behind it gives a high level of credibility to both you and your project. In turn this allows us to evaluate the importance and the significance of your project in comparison to the other applicants.
12 – Be original
Above all, be original! No originality equals no real interest for the judges. We see hundreds of applications, many of them with the same characteristics. Being original is what will make your grant application stand out among the crowd, so to speak.
In order to be original you need to avoid clichés applications. For example a project such as ‘100 Years of National Parks’ has been done 1000 times if not more.
If you don’t know if your project is original or not, spend some time researching if other photographers have covered the same subject. If they have, change your project in order to make it unique and different.
13 – Grant Application Assets
To sum things up here is a list of assets that will get you on the list of potential grant winners:
– Meeting the basic guidelines
– Being original
– Demonstrating vision
– Including photographs that work with the text
– Explaining clearly how you will use the grant money
– Designing a project for which the grant money is appropriate
– Including a statement about your level of experience and expertise
– Having a project in which the end product is clearly stated
14 – Example: Robert Frank’s Guggenheim application
I want to close this essay with an example of a successful grant application: the application submitted by Robert Frank to the Guggenheim foundation for his now-famous project: The Americans. You should be familiar with it if you are a serious photographer, however if you are not a Web search for the name of this project will give you a good idea of what it consists of.
This application is interesting because it very clearly states the vision Robert Frank had for his project. It also states his personal experience, the end product for the project and the people who supported him and his work. It also covers many of the important aspects that I discussed previously. Be sure to read it to draw your own conclusions.
15 – Luminous Endowment Grants Winners for fall 2014
Finally, as examples of successful applicants here are the winners of the Fall 2014 Luminous Endowment Grants:
Winner: CosticÄƒ Acsinte Archive by Popescu Mario-Cesar
LensWork Publication Skills Grant:
Winner: Montes Niviferi by Jacek Luc
Luminous Landscape Grant:
Winner: Southern Ancient Guardians by Vincenzo Mazza
Michael Reichmann Grant:
Winner: Bright Moments by Dennis Hearne
16 – Next essay
My next essay will continue my series on Vision by focusing on the subject of Mentors.
17 – About Alain Briot
I create fine art photographs, teach workshops and offer DVD tutorials on composition, image conversion, optimization, printing and marketing. I am the author of Mastering Landscape Photography, Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity and Personal Style and Marketing Fine Art Photography. All 4 books are available in eBook format on my website at this link: http://beautiful-landscape.com/Ebooks-Books-1-2-3.html
I also publish the Mastery Worskhops on DVD series whose goal is to help you master all aspects of fine art photography:
You can find more information about my work, writings and tutorials as well as subscribe to my Free Monthly Newsletter on my website at http://www.beautiful-landscape.com . You will receive 40 free eBooksimmediately after subscribing.
I welcome your comments on this essay as well as on my other essays. You can reach me directly by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.