A collaborative online community that brings together photographers and creative professionals of every kind to find ways to keep photography relevant, respected, and profitable.
Want us to find an answer to your question? Interested in becoming a contributor?Email us
Name: Joe Riis
Location: Moose, Wyoming right now and moving to Bijou Hills, South Dakota, early in 2010. I want to live in a cabin on the prairie.
Full-time job: Wildlife photographer and videographer
Personal project name and short description
Pronghorn Passage, a conservation photography project that focuses on the Grand Teton National Park pronghorn migration. Each fall a herd of 400 pronghorn antelope migrate from Grand Teton National Park down into the Upper Green River Basin of Wyoming, a total round-trip journey of 300 miles. This migration is the second longest overland mammal migration in the western hemisphere (after caribou in Alaska). The migration corridor is being squeezed down by residential development and mineral extraction on the private and public lands that it crosses. Pronghorn Passage is a collaborative project between myself and essayist Emilene Ostlind.
When and why did you start it?
The project was actually Emilene’s idea; she approached me and wanted to work together. She is a writer, and was just finishing up working at National Geographic Magazine and as Steve Winter’s assistant on his snow leopard story in India. She was coming back home to Wyoming to write a selection of essays about the pronghorn migration and wanted me to photograph it. At the time, I was just finishing up a 2-year conservation photography project on environmental threats to the Missouri River. I was ready to start photographing something new, and the pronghorn project, which had never been photographed before, seemed like a great idea.
I started researching and filling out grant applications in November 2007, and started my fieldwork in May 2008, the day after I graduated from the University of Wyoming with a bachelor’s in Wildlife Biology. We got the project fully funded through the National Geographic Expeditions Council, The Banff Centre, University of Wyoming, North American Nature Photographers Association, Grand Teton National Park, and Patagonia the clothing company. I feel very fortunate to have received so much financial backing for the project, which has allowed me to focus all my efforts on fieldwork.
I am still surprised by the support we got, but the bottom line is that the pronghorn story had all the elements to a good wildlife story. A small herd of pronghorn migrating a super long distance over an incredible landscape, under threat, that had never been photographed before — plus we were two young Wyomingites who wanted to live with pronghorn. The reason is hadn’t been photographed before is because it takes a huge time commitment, at least a full year. No one knew exactly where they were migrating so I had to do field biology before I could photograph it. Because most of my work is by camera trap, I have to know exactly where the animals are moving.
Do you have a particular image you are especially drawn to so far? More »
It’s not enough anymore to create work for one media platform, especially if you intend to raise awareness about issues or are trying to effect change. Now when I create a new project as a photojournalist or with Talking Eyes Media, the non-profit production company I founded with my wife, Julie Winokur, we have our eyes on expanded opportunities for distribution: the web, social media, books, exhibitions, T.V., lectures, workshops, academic applications, and NGO collaborations. There are undoubtedly even more I haven’t thought, of and we’re always looking for new options.
To work in this multi-platform landscape, you must develop skills beyond still photography. You should at least be proficient at gathering and editing audio, and preferably you’d also understand video and be able to handle post production to produce a finished piece.
Since Julie and I founded Talking Eyes seven years ago, we have developed a process that fluidly moves from proposal, field work, and post production to outreach and followup. With the Niger Delta work, we’re learning as we go. As usual, we’re applying for grants, but now they are in areas I’ve never ventured into before, attempting to receive funding support for educational outreach programs.
One small example of this can be seen on my blog where we posted papers written by history students at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where my book was required reading. They were asked to pick three images and write about them, and we posted a handful of their papers with the students’ consent.
This is an important aspect of multi-platform storytelling: It can easily be disseminated to a wide variety of audiences. It also provides the means for those audiences to talk back with the photographer/producer about the work. It is exciting to being able to create a groundswell of interest in this way, by building a feedback loop between the documentarian, their subject, and the audience.
I am currently writing grants to fund a broader implementation of this feedback loop idea (really it’s a wiki, but I wanted to avoid that term). My vision is to create a new website, or augment the existing one from liveBooks, so that students in the U.S. and Nigeria (or anywhere for that matter), who are using teaching materials I’ve created around oil and environmental issues, can contribute their own comments, information, pictures, and videos to the site. So a student in Port Harcourt, in the Niger Delta, would study these issues using the texts, stills, and video from my work there (along with expanded teaching materials we plan to include in a teaching DVD) and then do his or her own reporting or just contribute personal materials to the site. In this way, they can correct, augment, and develop my work to broaden, deepen, and personalize it. More »
I am the director of the Open Society Institute’s Documentary Photography Project, based in New York City. Through exhibits, workshops, grantmaking, and public programs, this project explores how photography can shape public perception and effect social change.
I joined OSI in 1994, helped establish the Moving Walls exhibition in 1998, and in 2004 developed and launched OSI’s Documentary Photography Project. Prior to OSI, I worked in Washington, D.C., as the director of government relations for NAFSA: Association of International Educators, where I represented U.S. colleges and universities in lobbying the U.S. Congress and government agencies on immigration policies affecting foreign students and the hiring of foreign faculty and researchers. I received a BA in history from the University of Michigan.
I’ve spent a decade supporting documentary photographers who devote years to personal projects. These photographers are thinking beyond getting a few images published in a newspaper or magazine — they want to have real impact. This happens when they:
Working with advocates/NGOs can greatly enhance a project’s reach and provide a photographer with on-the-ground contacts and assistance, as well as financial support. But there are challenges as well.
NGOs are not media organizations and have a different relationship to photographers. They also have their own agendas, which may or may not dovetail with a photographer’s. Sometimes there is a match. Sometimes not –- in which case, it may just be an assignment, not a long term relationship.
Click here for a list of all other “After Staff” posts.
In the beginning, Wéyo co-founder Stephen Katz and I started talking about how we could turn our photojournalistic skills and passion for working with nonprofits into a full-time career. We researched the nonprofit sector, talked to numerous organizations, and started to assemble like-minded journalists from a variety of disciplines (photography, film, writing, editing, designing), as well as marketing specialists.
Our goal has been to build a team that produces award-winning stories about nonprofits and then uses (markets) them in a way that can make a difference. Sometimes that is through designing websites and blogs around the content and sometimes it is crafting unique marketing projects utilizing our narrative-based material. Our fundamental principle is that, for people to act they must truly believe, and that comes from showing/telling them in compelling ways what it is exactly that our clients are doing to make this world a better place.
Starting a business in the middle of the greatest recession since the great depression may seem like a crazy move, and maybe we are a bit crazy, but it also presents a lot of opportunities. Nonprofits need us more than ever to tell their stories, and we have been able to attract people with not only great talent, but also great souls. We’ve grown (slowly) without taking loans or reaching too deeply into our personal finances, in part by appealing to nonprofits that we’d worked with when we were on staff at daily newspapers. Until now we’ve existed almost entirely by word of mouth, but we are currently in the early stages of a larger marketing campaign. So, we are growing at a comfortable pace,getting calls on a national level daily,but are ready for a larger role as organizations realize the potential we can tap into through our compelling work.
We decided on a model for the business that brings together different disciplines in large part after looking at thousands of nonrprofit websites — we realized 90% or more have a hard time telling people what they actually do with the donations they receive. The images on these sites are often of smiling kids, if there are images at all, and the videos and words leave people more confused. Our group understands the importance of showing and telling the story. It has been an amazing experience working with all these talented individuals, whose hearts are as big as their ideas. It’s not the hustle and bustle of the newsroom, much of what we do is in the virtual office online, but when those kind of talented people collaborate for a great cause, there is an excitement and creative buzz that is unmatched.
There are two main concerns working in this sector. First, these organizations have generally relied on donated content. And now everybody with a digital camera considers themselves a photographer, so and there is a ton of really awful, but free, imagery available. Most of the nonprofits we’ve worked with realize the power of strong documentary photography, but can’t come to grips with paying for it — even though these same groups will pay a decent amount of money to an PR agency or consulting group to utilize the donated images. There is only so much they can do with bad photography and most of these agencies really have no concept in how to use strong documentary material.
Second, you really aren’t your own boss. I don’t think any of us imagined at the start how long it would take to get a project started. In the newspaper business, you get an assignment, an hour later you’re shooting it, a few hours later you’re editing it, and a few hours after that it is in print and sitting on your doorstep. Not so in this new world. We have proposal meetings, then contract reviews, then board approvals, lawyer approvals … then perhaps you get the chance to work. Wéyo has proposals out that are over a year old and still in contract review, awaiting board approval. So, you have to have a lot of patience and take solace in the knowledge that what you are doing has the potential to change many lives for the better.
Click here for a list of all other “After Staff” posts.
Before I was awarded the grant from Pulitzer, I had to have it clear in my mind what I wanted to achieve with this project and how exactly I wanted to achieve it. I had already been working on the subject of desertification on-and-off for over a year, so I already had a good idea of most of the main issues.
In drawing up my application for the grant, I had to lay out a detailed plan of where I would go during my proposed trip, which forced me to clearly identify the key issues that were important to the big topic. Beginning this planning process was no easy task. China is a vast place and desertification is an equally vast issue. I knew that I was going to have to lay a careful plan if I was to achieve everything I wanted to.
The first thing I did was revisit all the old articles that I had bookmarked online over the months. I have a habit of bookmarking interesting articles in case I ever need them or decide to follow-up on them for potential photo-essays. This helped me quickly review what I was already familiar with. Through my research, I then started to make a list of separate issues that were all linked to desertification. These included things like environmental refugees, degraded grasslands, abandoned cities, threatened water, tourism, science vs. the desert, etc.
The next step was to head to my office wall, where a large, detailed map of China became my logistical planning station. With articles in hand, I started to circle locations that seemed to represent each issue I wanted to cover. Quite soon, I had circles and scribbles all over the map. My proposal was going to be for a 6-week trip, so I knew I didn’t want to attempt too much — but I also needed to cover all the key issues. I decided to tackle six issues, one per week, giving me seven days with each location and issue.
One of my main goals for this project was to show that desertification was affecting vast swathes of China. I therefore planned to travel from “coast to coast,” 4,000 km from one side of China to the other, and picked locations that would move me progressively across the country. Most of my locations fell along China’s northern rail network, so I decided to ride these trains as a way to link my locations and give me a better feel for the land I was traveling through.
Once I had decided on locations and how I was going to travel to them, I needed to identify how I would cover the issue in each location. Again, this came down to research. I trawled the web looking for information on each location to give me a an idea of what images I could potentially make there. For some of the locations, however, the information was limited, so I knew it was going to take some investigative work once there to tell the story. Also, you can never plan completely what pictures you will take because it is often the serendipitous ones that eventually turn out to be the best.
Even after all my research was done and the plan was laid out, though, I just knew that everything would not transpire as smoothly as I hoped. “This is China — things are never straightforward,” I though to myself. I had prepared as best I could, but I also had to be ready to adapt quickly to the changes I would inevitably have to make to my plan.
During my 1-year paid internship at Magnum Photos London in 2004-5, the then deputy director Hamish Crooks gave me and fellow interns some simple yet important advice on how to find newsworthy stories. “Pick up a newspaper and read.”
Hamish encouraged us to devour headlines to understand why people care enough about an issue to report on it. He also advised us to find topics we were passionate about on a personal level, rather than simply covering issues we were “expected” to cover. From that point on, I started to read news in a different way — always assessing its visual potential and gauging my own interest in the subject matter.
In the summer of 2007 I came across the subject of desertification in a news article. Images of villages and towns being swallowed by slowly moving sand dunes filled my mind. I imagined cracked earth in drought-stricken regions and intense sandstorms blocking out the sun. When you first consider covering an issue, it is inevitable that you conjure images that represent your preconceptions about it. Some turn out to be true, others don’t. One of the challenges of reporting on a subject is to confront your preconceptions and free yourself from them.
I began my work on desertification in western China by taking two weeks to gauge the potential for this story. At the beginning of 2008 I received the first David Alan Harvey Fund for Emerging Photographers, which helped me continue this work and also look at other environmental issues in Asia. As I continued the desertification story, I started to look for other sources of funding to help me continue the work and enable me to push even deeper into the subject matter. This is when I discovered the work of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and their travel grants to cover under-reported issues, which I felt desertification definitely was.
Application for the Pulitzer Center grant involved writing a detailed project proposal and outlining logistical and financial planning for the entirety of the proposed project. My project also had to fall in line with the Pulitzer Center’s focus on, “enterprising reporting projects throughout the world with an emphasis on issues that are under-reported, mis-reported, or not reported on at all.” Even though I had first read desertification in an international publication, and had seen work on the same subject by other photographers, I still believed it was a vastly under-reported issue and deserved more attention.
In February of 2009 I received an email from Nathlaie Applewhite, the Associate Director of the Pulitzer Center, informing me that my application for the grant had been successful. At that point I began my preparations and logistical planning for 6-weeks on the road. Needless to say, there was a lot to do!
Launched in 2005 under the Documentary Photography Project, the $5,000-$30,000 grant pushes photographers to explore innovative ways to present and disseminate photography, asking them to partner with organizations that can help their work have a meaningful impact on social justice and human rights issues.
The submission deadline for the 2009 grant is June 19, 2009. We know photographers are busy and tend to submit last minute, but since the grant requires applicants to have established a relationship with an NGO, advocacy organization, or other entity, we’re encouraging you to get started on this one right away. To help you understand what the Open Society Institute (OSI) is looking for, we talked to Yukiko Yamagata, Program Officer and Exhibition Manager for the Documentary Photography Project. Guidelines from OSI here.
Carmen Suen: What is the most important thing for photographers to note when applying for this grant?
Yukiko Yamagata: It’s important that photographers identify what impact they hope to have on a given issue, and to explore the best ways they can reach the goals they establish. It’s also helpful for them to do a lot of research on what efforts already exist in social justice and human rights efforts, so they are not reinventing the wheel. That way they can build on what’s already been done, identify obstacles other people have faced, and understand how the use of photography can help to overcome these obstacles.
We encourage photographers to look outside the field of photography and to become familiar with what’s happening in other fields that employ visual means for advocacy, civic engagement, community organizing, or public education. For example, reading case studies and critical analysis of public and community-based art could really inform photographers about methodologies and best practices for partnering with organizations, working with a community, and engaging the community in the actual development and implementation of the project. The Community Arts Network, Animating Democracy, and the Walker Art Center Education and Community Programs Department are just a few examples of organizations that provide helpful resources for developing art-specific engagement projects.
CS: What are some of the things to consider when looking for a partner for this grant?
YY: Find a partner organization that has a successful track record, and is already engaged in that issue or the distribution mechanism you’re proposing. You also want to engage with partners that bring in new areas of expertise rather than duplicating your own skill set.
In certain cases, you may want to have more than one partner organization. For example, if you’re thinking about creating educational curricula for high schools in the U.S., you could have a partner who is advocating on the issue and understands the community you’re trying to reach, and another whose expertise is in developing and distributing educational curricula.
CS: Are there any common mistakes that applicants should avoid?
YY: We often get projects that talk about “educating the public” or “raising awareness” in a very general way. It’s important to go beyond that and think about what audience is best positioned to create change on the issue you’re addressing. Is it policy makers? Or is it community advocates? Or perhaps the community itself? Once you figured out who your audience is, the next step is to find out what venues or outlets would reach that audience most effectively.
Another important element is the mechanism used to engage your target audience. Often what happens is you have this beautiful photography exhibition that is incredibly powerful and moving, but by the time the audience members go home, you’ve lost them. You need to show us some of the ways that you will incorporate programming and follow-up activity to mobilize the people who see your photographs and inspire them to take action.
In terms of the actual writing of the proposal, we encourage applicants to present their project in a very clear and concise way and to avoid jargon. Definitely be clear about the goals of the project, the partner(s), the target audience, and why you chose a particular venue.
CS: Are there a few recipients who were especially able to use the grant to create positive change in communities they documented?
YY: We funded a project by Lori Waselchuk last year that just launched last week where she is working to encourage the integration of hospice programs into prison health care. She is collaborating with the Louisiana-Mississippi Hospice & Palliative Care Organization to mount a photography exhibit at Angola Prison and she plans to tour it to correctional facilities in Mississippi and Louisiana.
This project is great because, number one, the partner organization is just as committed as she is to the project and it’s really taking the lead to place the exhibit to other correctional facilities. The venue that she has chosen targets people who are in the position to make decisions about prison health care, and she presents the materials directly to them. By placing the exhibit at the prison, she is able to bring the public to the place where these decisions are being felt.
We also funded a project by Nina Berman in which she documented American soldiers wounded in Iraq. She toured the exhibition to 10 high schools throughout the U.S. that were targeted by military recruiters. By bringing the exhibit to these schools and organizing lectures with a soldier from her photographs, she is able to bring attention, in a very personal way, to the impact the war has on soldiers’ lives. She was very strategic in her thinking in terms of the venue and the audience, and how the photographs would help high school students not only learn about this issue, but also provide an alternative narrative to what the recruiters had been telling them about the benefits of enlisting.
Miki Johnson: Tell me briefly about the goals of WIPNYC and why it was important to be able to offer this grant.
WIP: Women in Photography is an online exhibition project designed to highlight the work of emerging, mid-career, and established artists. Our goal is to be a resource for curators, editors, and publishers, and also to create a visual dialog between women artists working in the photographic medium.
We have both been overwhelmed by the positive response to the site. Both of us have spent a great deal of time thinking about what we want the site to contribute to the photographic community. The next logical step in our programming was a grant. Because like the site, it allows us to both support and call attention to the work of women artists.
MJ: What is the main goal of this grant?
WIP: The main goal of the grant is to provide funding to one female photographer in support of a project. I think funding is a problem for artists working in all mediums, unless you have independent means or are extremely successful in the commercial art world. Photographers must pay for film, processing, equipment, travel, in addition to the high cost of creating work for exhibition or self-publishing. We both have struggled to fund our own work and find great importance in these types of opportunities. With so few grants available, it just seemed great to be able to give back.
MJ: How will you determine the recipient? Do you have any tips for photographers planning to submit?
WIP: We will select the recipient based on the quality of work, and the need of the applicant along with the strength of their project proposal. The most important thing is to submit five of your strongest images from a cohesive body of work as well as make sure to write clear, concise, and persuasive project goals. The grant is open to women at any stage in their career, except students. It is open to the artists previously shown on WIPNYC.org as well.
MJ: And the grant recipient will also be exhibited at WIPNYC.org?
WIP: The grant recipient will have a solo show on the site in June. In addition, we will have an award reception, including a slideshow presentation of the grant recipients’ work at the National Arts Club in New York City.
Because the solo shows we feature are online, we can reach a broader audience. Our visitors do not need to be in a specific city because they are accessing the work worldwide. The site traffic has grown dramatically with each show, which is one of the benefits of exhibiting work online. Several of our artists have seen a noticeable increase of traffic on their own sites. Being featured on the site has led to many things, including magazine assignments and inquiries from publishers and galley representation.
While my projects with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) take up most of my time, I now spend roughly a quarter of my year running my own freelance photography business. The reputation I have established through my WHOI work has led to some tough but rewarding assignments, like documenting shellfish farmers on Cape Cod, construction workers at the new Yankee Stadium, and medical students at a summer internship. Although the people and the settings could not be more different, the general theme is the same: people working outdoors.
A second tangible extension of my photography for WHOI is my involvement with the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP). My efforts in communicating conservation science topics like climate change led me to cross paths with ILCP Director Cristina Mittermeier several years ago. She encouraged me to apply, and I joined the ILCP as an Emerging Member in 2007. Working with world-class photographers who have been covering environmental topics for decades has been a life-altering event. I participated in a RAVE (Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition) in May 2008 to document the impact of oil and gas development in Wyoming and will be participating in another RAVE focused on the environmental consequences of the US-Mexico border wall in January-February 2009. Working alongside photographers that share my passion for the environment is inspiring. Many of the ILCP Fellows, like Frans Lanting, Gary Braasch, and James Balog have been role models to me as I have developed my own photographic vision. Working alongside them on RAVEs and other ILCP projects is an incredible opportunity.