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Grant Writing

In the short time since photographers Cara Phillips and Amy Elkins launched Women In Photography in June 2008, the online exhibition space for female photographers has received a deluge of recognition and submissions that at times have overwhelmed the founders — who manage the website in their spare time, for free. They announced their first grant, for $3,000, several weeks ago. With the May 1 deadline approaching, we wanted to talk with Amy and Cara about how the grant fits into their larger goals, and what applicants need to know about the submission process.
"Eden" by Women In Photography exhibitor Kelli Connell ©Kelli Connell

"Eden" by Women In Photography exhibitor Kelli Connell ©Kelli Connell

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 as well.

MJ: And the grant recipient will also be exhibited at

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.

February 23rd, 2009

Tips from a science photographer 4

Posted by Chris Linder

In “Tips from a science photographer 3,” Chris outlined how he partners with museums and educational institutions to make his work more appealing to grant committees. Don’t miss his next post on how he designed the “Live From the Poles” expeditions that garnered funding from the National Science Foundation and led him to a full-time photography career.
Chris's work for Woods Hole Oceanographic has led to other jobs, like this project photographing the construction of the new Yankee Stadium.

Chris's work for Woods Hole Oceanographic has led to other jobs, like this project photographing the construction of the new Yankee Stadium. © Chris Linder

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.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: Starting out by photographing something you know very well is often a good way to build a portfolio that can lead to a wide range of assignments. Please share your story if you’ve had a similar experience.

February 16th, 2009

Tips from a science photographer 3

Posted by Chris Linder

In “Tips from a science photographer 2,” Chris explains how to write a photography-based science grant. In this post, he demonstrates how strategic partnership with museums can make a grant proposal more attractive. Check back for “4“: How visually documenting science projects can lead to other photography assignments.
The Field Museum in Chicago is one of eight partner museums in Chris's "Live from the Poles" project. © Chris Linder/WHOI

The Field Museum in Chicago is one of eight museums Chris partners with for the "Live From the Poles" projects. Photo by Chris Linder, WHOI

One of the biggest hurdles you face as a photographer when writing an education and outreach grant is: How do you get your message out there? Who is the audience and how do you reach them? You may have the best idea in the world for communicating science, but if your audience is your 58 Facebook friends, chances are you’re going to end up with a “Proposal Declined.”

To increase the audience for our “Live from the Poles” proposal, we teamed up with eight science and natural history museums across the country: the Museum of Science, Boston; Liberty Science Center, Jersey City; Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh; the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC; the Houston Museum of Natural Science; The Field Museum, Chicago; Birch Aquarium at Scripps, La Jolla, Calif.; and the Pacific Science Center, Seattle.

This collaboration has been one of the highlights of the “Live from the Poles project. It’s very symbiotic—the museums deliver kids and adults that are eager to learn about science and we provide the content: cutting-edge polar science, explained in an easy-to-digest format (daily photo essays from the field and live question-and-answer talks via satellite phone). It’s very satisfying to me, as a native Midwesterner, to teach kids in Chicago about polar oceanography through a public program at the Field Museum.

In addition to the live talks while we are in the field, museums use my still images for exhibits and slideshow presentations. Working closely with the Field Museum, I created a photography exhibition titled “Exploring the Arctic Seafloor” that is currently touring natural history and science museums across the country (at The Field Museum in Chicago from Feb. 22 to July 6).

There’s no question that effective partnerships make you more attractive to proposal reviewers, especially if each partner brings a strong component to the proposed work. Analyze your proposal for weaknesses and then find a partner that specializes in those weak areas. It takes a lot of phone calls, e-mails, and meetings to keep the team organized, but the rewards are substantial.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: Are there other photographers out here who have successful partnership with museums or other educational institutions? How did you initially connect with the institutions and what have the rewards been for both of you?

February 9th, 2009

Tips from a science photographer 2

Posted by Chris Linder

In “Tips from a science photographer 1,” Chris explains how he went from writing grants as an oceanographer to receiving grants from the National Science Foundation to visually document scientific work. In this post he explains how to write a photography-based science grant. Check out “3“: How to partner with museums to make your grant proposal more attractive.
Much of Chris Linder's photographs, like this image, are made while helping with research. ©Chris Linder

Many of Chris Linder's photographs, like this image, are made while helping with research. Photo by Chris Linder, WHOI

Although there are a number of federal agencies that fund science, including NASA, the Office of Naval Research (ONR), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the bulk of my grant-writing experience has been with the National Science Foundation (NSF). Each funding institution is different, so I will focus on the NSF process.

I know of only one National Science Foundation (NSF) grant that supports artistic endeavors: the Antarctic Artists and Writers grant. That is an unusual grant since it provides logistics support and access to the Antarctic continent only; no other funds are supplied.

If you want to photograph science and be paid for your work through an NSF grant, you need to either partner with a researcher submitting a scientific proposal or get your own science education grant.

1. Collaborating with a researcher
All proposals to NSF are evaluated based primarily on two criteria: “Intellectual Merit” and “Broader Impacts.” Intellectual merit is straightforward: are the proposed scientific advances worthy of funding? NSF more loosely defines broader impacts as “how well does the activity advance discovery and understanding while promoting teaching, training and learning?” More »


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