PAY UP! Photographers and NGO's and $$

June 28, 2010 § 8 Comments

Should photographers be paid to work for NGO’s?

Well, YES! And no. I mean, of course! Except…sometimes not.

This is a complicated question.

From an organizational perspective, on the one hand you have a scenario like this: a large, international NGO with a significant marketing budget needs to make pictures to chronicle and advertise its work. It has a few different options.

  1. It can hire a photographer.
  2. It can work with volunteer photographers.
  3. It can encourage its employees to also take photographs as a part of their work.

If you look at the International Rescue Committee, for example, they make use of all of these strategies.

On the other hand, you have a tiny organization based in a rural area, without access to technology, or sometimes even electricity. This organization has very limited ability to photograph itself, and very limited funds. This kind of organization has options as well:

  1. No photography will be used in its work.
  2. It can find a volunteer photographer.
  3. It can fundraise, perhaps even with the photographer, in order to pay for the project.

And all organizations have a—perhaps inappropriate—mandate to keep their administrative costs much much lower than their program costs. I.e., donors these days seem to want the money they give to go “straight” to benefits for the clients, not to paying for the desks, equipment, marketing and employee salaries of the organization. That trend tends to put undue pressure on organizations’ marketing budgets to stay low, making them unable to hire a professional photographer. (For more on this problem, check out this paper called the Nonprofit Starvation Cycle in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.)

Now let’s look at the photographers’ perspective.

Some photographers, as journalist Yves Choquette said in his comment to me on PhotoPhilanthropy’s Facebook page, have a day job. They are happy to volunteer their time, and don’t need to be paid. With the increasing popularity of photography around the world, the skill and knowledge about how to make pictures has increased. There are a lot of people who are not professional photographers who can make excellent images in the service of organizations.

There are also career photographers. Some call themselves artists, some call themselves journalists, but for all of them, photography is at the center of their professional identity. Those people need to make money, and they need to be valued. The society at large needs to recognize the importance of the work that they do, if they are going to be able to keep doing it.

However, the industry that has existed around photojournalists over the last few decades is shifting dramatically, as many industries are. I’ve written before about the music industry in relation to photography and the internet, because I think we are seeing successful journalists innovate, just like successful musicians.

One of these innovations is the NGO/journalist partnership, where the traditional client/service provider relationship is being replaced by a mutually beneficial partnership, in which money plays a slightly different role than it has in the past. I just read a fantastic summary of the rising trend of journalists collaborating with NGO’s to produce international news pieces, written by Kimberly Abbott on Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab website. “The picture emerging,” Abbott writes, “is one of journalists who are trying to find new ways to tell important international stories and NGOs that are adapting to meet that need.”

She goes on to say, “An editorial red line the media would have considered completely taboo to cross just a few years ago might be more palatable today as the financial pressures on news organizations continue to mount. Similarly, an NGO offering time, staff or funding to help a news organization might have once seemed far outside of its mission, but today it is an important part of maintaining a voice in a competitive field and ensuring that stories that affect so many lives still reach U.S. audiences.”

There has been a big discussion amongst photojournalists this week on the Lightstalkers discussion board around how much photographers hired by NGO’s should charge. It’s a discussion worth having multiple times, because there is no one answer—it really depends on each specific scenario. The comments posted there strike me as level-headed and practical. I found them well worth reading—they helped me gain a sense of what my own work might be worth. I think both photographers and nonprofit representatives should read them.

PhotoPhilanthropy pursues a few different strategies for supporting photographers and nonprofits.

We help match up volunteer photographers who want to donate their time or design a partnership, and NGO’s with small or nonexistent marketing budgets. The goal is to draw attention to social issues that are going unnoticed. That work is not meant to replace existing media, nor is it an appropriate type of project for all photographers or all NGO’s. It’s simply one of many ways to go about telling stories.

PhotoPhilanthropy also gives grants to photographers who have been able to carry out these kinds of collaborations with NGO’s (whether paid or unpaid) in order to provide social and material support to those people who are trying to use photography to make a difference.

In my own photography, I take a different approach all together. As someone who fits in no conventional categories as a photographer, I actually create long-term partnerships with nonprofit organizations, and I fundraise on behalf of myself and the org.

The benefit to me is that the organization doesn’t control me, or my images, or how I tell the story I want to tell. However, I do want their collaboration, so part of our relationship or partnership agreement is to allow them to influence the project. That ends up benefiting me as well—I learn about the issue I’m covering by communicating effectively with the organization, and I’m forced to think more carefully about the impact my work has on the individuals I photograph.

Of course, the big down side to working like this is that the relationships I build and the fundraising I do don’t pay all my bills, only some of them. So, for now, I’m also a photographer with a “day job.”

Sometimes nonprofits hire photographers. Sometimes photographers volunteer for nonprofits. Sometimes the two entities create a partnership funded by a foundation. I think these are all valid, useful, socially beneficial ways for photographers and NGO’s to interact.

Living amongst the dead: photographer James Chance heads to Manila’s north cemetery

June 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

This morning, I caught up with James Chance, who has just won the Emerging Vision prize sponsored by Pictures of the Year International. He receives a $10,000 grant plus exhibition at the Annenberg Space for photography in Los Angeles, and the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri. You can see his portfolio and his proposal here, which I found notable for the way in which it combined an arresting story idea with a nuanced approach and genuine emotion.

James told me he has been interested in people and their living environments for a long time. While living in Ohio, he learned about Manila’s north cemetery, where it is estimated that 2000 people live amongst the graves. That struck him as a profoundly difficult and yet intriguing living environment, and he decided to explore it.

He visited the Philippines, and this cemetery, for a month in 2008 in order to lay the groundwork for this project. “In contrast to cemeteries in the west,” he writes, “the North Cemetery is a busy and vibrant place. The vast and complex network of streets and alleys is tightly lined by tens of thousands of mausoleums and tombs – many of which are inhabited. Yet this is still a fully functioning cemetery, with up to 80 funerals taking place each day. The community here is strong and the stigma attached with inhabiting this location has allowed a unique ‘gated community’ to grow. Indeed, the resting place of the dead is the foundation that the living now depend upon.”

Although born in rural England and educated in Nottingham, Melbourne, and Ohio, he now lives with his wife in Colorado, where they run a small multimedia company that creates communications for nonprofits. After his masters, he meant to move to Las Vegas, “because the contrast between the lights of the strip and what was behind all that, the city, was fascinating to me,” he said. At the same time, he was offered an internship with the Columbus Dispatch, which he did instead, to try his hand at newspaper photography for a few years. In the end, he didn’t like it.

“I like to spend time with people and produce a longer story, over a period of time,” he said. “That’s why I didn’t like newspaper photography—as you sometimes only have fifteen minutes somewhere or with someone to get a picture—that wasn’t the way I aspired to work.”

His wife Jessica started out as a strategic communications specialist for nonprofits, and one day she invited him to collaborate on a project she was doing at work. “At that point, we realized that our combined sill sets were very useful to nonprofits. So after doing that we decided we would set up a business to produce multimedia projects for the nonprofit sector,” he told me.

“Like a lot of photographers, it was necessary for me to diversify because the industry is shrinking. It’s also changing a lot, with all these new technologies emerging.”

So he and Jessica founded Chance Multimedia, and have worked with nonprofit clients ranging from Médecins Sans Frontières to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

When I congratulated him on this latest honor he said, “Most of all, I’m excited to get back there and continue the story.”

This was the inaugural year of the Emerging Vision Incentive, and PhotoPhilanthropy has collaborated with POYi by sending our own Awards Director, Kathleen Hennessy, to participate in the judging of the award. “I thought his story was unique and focused,” said Hennessy, of the judging process. “His photographs were intimate and showed sophisticated seeing.”

We will also be sending one of the student winners of this year’s Activist Award to the POYi Missouri Photo Workshop in 2011.

PhotoPhilanthropy congratulates James Chance, and we look forward to seeing more images from the remarkable community he’ll be working with!

The copyright question

June 11, 2010 § 10 Comments

Interacting with photographers and photography forums, I see a lot of passionate discussion about how images should be used and shared on the internet. Photographers are, understandably, concerned about intellectual property rights, copyrights, and their ability to continue to make a living from making images.

Penguin by zoutedrop

These are similar to the issues that the music industry has been confronting for over a decade now. The industry itself has been slow to respond, and, I think, pretty uncreative in its responses. However, a smattering of individual artists have developed really innovative solutions to the problem of how to make a living while also letting go of their work enough to let it spread. It’s only by letting go that huge audiences can experience their work, which ultimately builds their market.

In March the NPR show On The Media did a fantastic program on this topic within the music industry. They featured one artist in particular, Amanda Palmer, who has excelled at innovating around her marketability and with her fans. “Everyone has to stop thinking there is an answer,” she tells producer Rick Karr. “The answer is, there’s an infinite number of answers.”

Her solutions have included t-shirt projects (one of which raised $19,000 in 10 hours through twitter, according to OTM), flash-mob concerts that utilize public spaces and ask for contributions from fans in person, and by maintaining a blog and a twitter account that allow fans to engage with her in her innovation process, as well as understand more about the real life of a musician (i.e. why artists need fans’ money in the first place).

Green Wood by Juan Antonio Capo

It seems to me there are two main elements to this innovation process. 1) Eschewing what people won’t pay for, and figuring out what people WILL pay for. In the music industry, people don’t really want to buy cd’s any more, but they do want to buy tshirts. They want merch. Bands have become brands. 2) Merging with patterns, and leveraging social media. People are spending their time and money on interacting digitally—so Nine Inch Nails, famously radical in the way they interact with their fan base, (making online treasure hunts for example) has developed an iPhone app. Radiohead was one of the first bands to shift the responsibility, and the power, overtly to the fans by releasing their album online for free, and asking people to make a donation in an amount of their choice. People want to support the stuff (music, pictures, objects) they love, so if you stop manipulating them and acknowledge the power they have as fans, you can catalyze voluntary, genuine, at-scale support.

Square Nature, by m4tik

I think it’s time for photographers to start innovating in similar ways. Journalism itself is iterating, testing out new models like ProPublica, citizen journalism, and new digital formats. So what are photographers doing? (Please send me examples of innovators in this arena!)

One evening last spring, I had a friend who specializes in word-of-mouth-marketing tell me, “Eliza, I want to challenge you to make your images shareable on the web.” I had been asking him for advice, but I had not expected him to say this. At first I thought NO WAY.

Introspective Goat by tjdewey

But after a year of blogging, browsing, tweeting and generally engaging with photography on the web in a new way, I think he is absolutely right. One of the best things photographers can do for themselves is to build an audience, and you can’t build a large audience right now without using the internet. I don’t lose anything from a) putting my images online, and b) putting them under a Creative Commons license. Even without that symbol, anyone can repost my images anyway, citing the fair use policy (which I agree with—we need cultural commentators just like we need artists).

It’s not as if I can make money from those images when they are 72 dpi anyway. Perhaps in a print format—either as fine art prints, or as printable files for editorial content—but my images on the web are not at a size where someone can print them nicely (or, not the way I print them, anyway!). And helping my images get spread around the web basically acts as free advertising on my behalf. It only helps me. By putting them under Creative Commons, I become an active participant in cultural change, rather than impotently fighting the inevitable. I become someone who is using the strengths of the internet to my own advantage. In a way, I regain control by giving up control. And I acknowledge the immense creative power that lies in building upon the work of others, which we do all the time.

Balconies by o palsson

A Developing Story has just launched a campaign that builds upon this same idea. They are asking why awareness campaigns, designed to save lives through health education, can’t be put under a creative commons license so that humanitarians, doctors, social workers and volunteers can have materials constantly available to them in the work that they do. It’s an interesting question.

All images in this post are licensed as Creative Commons on Flickr.

The entry fee: building community or breaking trust?

June 5, 2010 § 2 Comments

Why are artists asked to contribute to the administration budget of small arts organizations?

Part of me just DETESTS paying application fees for grants, when the whole reason I am applying to things is to INCREASE my net wealth, in order to do my project. I mean, please! It’s just so illogical! And irritating! Sometimes I feel like the people running these competitions and grant programs have no respect for the effort I am putting into funding and doing my work. TANTRUM.

Then, other times, asking for an application fee seems like a perfectly reasonable—and even socially productive—thing to do. I think about Cadre, the art grant started by photographers Carla Williams and Deirdre Visser, which was designed to function as a community of artists supporting each other. It built relationships and a feeling of connection, because you got to be the donor who supports artists, as well as the artist who receives support. The problem they ran into was the time it was taking them to administer the grant (and update the communications around it), so it got put on hold.

Cadre was very distinctive in the way it overtly acknowledged the buy-in it required from artists. I really liked that. I felt empowered, rather than used. But overhead—which Cadre didn’t have at all, which undermined it—is the very thing that most of these application fees provide to the organization.

Small nonprofits, started by other artists, like Amy Elkins’ and Cara Phillips‘  Women In Photography NYC (WIPNYC) for example, don’t have a large enough administration budget to cover the grantmaking process. (And no wonder–I imagine it’s just as hard for them to raise money for the org as it is for me to raise money for my project.) They have enough money for one grant ($3,000), but–I assume–not enough money to pay staff to do all the stuff you need to do to actually give it away. Plus, the grant provides a way for them to build an audience, and build a following, and promote their other projects just as much as it provides a way to support an individual artist’s project.

For many organizations, their grants are a marketing and communications tool in addition to being a grant.  While I recognize that as an effective strategy, it can be frustrating to feel as though I am paying for their marketing.

This is where I’m on the fence. I want to support WIPNYC as an organization because I think they’re great, and my application fee is a way to do that. But I don’t think there’s enough pay-off. They don’t acknowledge my support as a donation to them. They make it a requirement of applying for the grant. And that act, of me giving away money in order to compete to get money, just feels so counter-intuitive (and counterproductive). The more grants of this type that I apply to, the more I run the risk of spending more on application fees than I receive in actual funding.

Hey, Hot Shot!, Critical Mass, and Humble Arts Foundation NY’s Collector’s Guide all have much higher application fees, but fall into a different category for me. They all give me more than just a chance at an award or a grant. Hey, Hot Shot! has an escalating fee (the later you apply to the deadline, the more you pay—good idea from an organizational-logistics perspective!). Right now it’s around $70. And in exchange for it, you get a high probability that they will blog about you, and automatic entry into a sub-competition for smaller awards. They have an impressive marketing machine, so if that machine goes to work on your behalf, that is a significant gain. I’m still ostensibly contributing to their overhead, and it’s still not a sure bet that you receive anything, but there’s a relatively high probability that you will. (One hopes.)

Like Hey, Hot Shot!, PhotoLucida’s Critical Mass promises that powerful eyes will look at your images. And you get a CD of all the entrants’ work. And it promises to send you the books that get created as a result of the competition that you are a part of. Depending on who you are and what you’re doing, that can be worth the $75 entry fee. (Yay, books!) Meanwhile, the Humble Colletor’s Guide has a $40 submission fee, and then a $295 fee if you are accepted, which feels astronomical, but you are basically helping to pay for and distribute your work to gallerists and curators, in an extremely sophisticated format. Again, for some people, it’s the right moment to make that kind of investment. For others, it isn’t–the process encourages self-selection.

With more generic entry fees for grants, there’s a lot less certainty that you’ll get anything at all from entering the competition. Meanwhile, when you are applying to foundations, city or state grants, or other organizations that exist exclusively as grant-making entities, there is usually no application fee at all. The problem with many of those is that it can be hard to find funders for individuals, rather than organizations. And their applications are so complex that it can take more time to complete them than the grants are actually worth, in terms of dollars per hour.

This is an issue I’d really love to hear your thoughts about. Whether you’re an artist, a philanthropist, a nonprofit, someone running these kinds of initiatives, or an innocent bystander, let me know what you think about this. It’s always helpful to hear organizational strategies and user-perspectives.

And by the way, PhotoPhilanthropy has no entry fee at all, and submissions are open.

It's cool to be different.

May 27, 2010 § 2 Comments

Mark Tuschman on behalf of Women's Trust

Now that PhotoPhilanthropy’s submissions are open, I find myself thinking again about what an interesting niche we fill in the world of photographic grants and prizes. There are not too many competitions out there that specifically target collaborations between photographers and nonprofit organizations.

In fact, when I first brokered a partnership between myself and a small nonprofit, it felt like a radical act. I had not yet seen many examples of what that looked like or how it could be done. I had worked for a nonprofit before, and taken pictures for them as part of my job, which is another kind of partnership. But I had never courted an organization with the express goal of making art with them.

It was hard to figure out how to go about it.

I started by getting a project idea, and identifying organizations that it would make sense to collaborate with. Then I scheduled meetings with representatives of the organizations, and eventually their CEO’s. In those meetings, I had to convince the organizations that: a) we shared values; b) we shared objectives; and c) there were specific things each of us would gain from working together.

Keri Vaca on behalf of the Homeless Prenatal Program

Writing down those specific benefits for each side of the partnership was a really important part. It helped the organization see me as a separate entity, as another organization with my own goals to accomplish and resources to mobilize, rather than as one of their employees. It also helped me understand their perspective and needs more deeply.

From there, we designed the specifics of the project together. We wrote grant proposals together. We courted venues for exhibitions together. We mobilized our separate networks when we needed volunteers or when we were ready to invite people to the shows.

One of the amazing things about the Activist Awards last year, for me, was seeing how many other people have negotiated this process of collaboration. Some people created simple partnerships, while others created multifaceted, more complex partnerships. But no matter how different their approach, it has been so pleasurable for me to find out that other artists, nonprofits, volunteers, journalists, and students have all seen the value of this kind of work, and have plunged themselves into it. Yee haw!

It’s so great to feel that I am part of this community, and that there are organizations like PhotoPhilanthropy recognizing this challenging and meaningful work, and applauding it.

Rosa Verhoeve on behalf of Medecins sans Frontieres

Who ElSE is in this niche?

Project Exposure, where you can contribute funds to support a photographer/nonprofit collaboration.

Getty Grants for Good offers an annual grant to support a photographer/nonprofit collaboration.

CollectiveLens is another community where you can interact with others and post your photos.

Photographers for Charity is an organization that provides photography and marketing consulting to nonprofits.

Let us know if you’ve heard of others! We want to know who’s out there!

That poor, dead wombat!

May 18, 2010 § 1 Comment

What do you get when you add exotic roadkill to your diningroom table? Why, something that looks like a 17th century European masterwork, of course! I invite you to take a look at the work of Marian Drew, an Australian photographer who blurs the lines between fact and fiction with the utmost care.

Marian Drew: Wombat and Watermelon, 2005 & Wallaby and Tarpaulin, 2006

I find her work very moving. Somehow, her modern photographs dramatically increase my interest in antiquated still life paintings. And they also comment on stillness and motion, reality and imagination, and the tension between the natural and the man-orchestrated worlds.

Marian Drew: Rainbow Lorikeet on Queensland needlework, 2009 & Kingfisher with Chinese cloth and strawberries, 2009

To an American eye, the wildlife itself, which is one of the “real” or documentary aspects of this work, is almost the least believable component of each image. A rainbow lorikeet, for example, hardly looks like your average bird. Although now, living in Australia, I’m getting to know them better.

I found Drew’s work through the recommendation of a friend of mine, named Leigh Merrill. Leigh also plays with our conceptions of reality and fakery in her work. She mixes fabric flowers with real flowers with wall paper. What is “real” here?

Leigh Merrill: Ranunculli

The camera is the equalizer—in a way, the camera makes everything equally real, equally fake.

Leigh Merrill: Blue Cake

And she brings in supermarket cakes, which I have eaten with gusto, but which, now that she mentions it, have very little of the “real” in them. (She had a few in her studio that lasted, unchanged, unspoilt, for weeks. Which was more than a little alarming.)

Leigh Merrill: Arizona

The same thing happens again with images of Phoenix, the Sonoran desert, and the Grand Canyon. Using the tilt/shift capabilities of the view camera, street scenes look like dioramas.

Leigh Merrill: Arizona

Incidentally, if you’re interested in this look, Olivo Barbieri’s photographs of Las Vegas are astounding.

Olivo Barbieri

And this video by Sam O’Hare called The Sandpit—a day in the life of New York City, is also quite wonderful.

And just try to figure out what is real and what is not in this picture:

Leigh Merrill: Pink Street

What I like about all these photographers is that they call our attention to the world around us in a new way. It’s just as the kids from the kNOw said last week—the power of photography is that it can make people think; it makes them see things differently; it makes them reevaluate what they know about their world. And sometimes, an effective way to do that is to surprise people. To play. To take something familiar, and make it strange. Or to take something strange, and make it familiar.

I still think that one of the most arresting photo essays we received last year is from Sumit Dayal, who made composite images about the flooding of the Kosi River, in Bihar, India. He was able to take something strange to me—I have little experience with floods, or India—and make it familiar. He found beauty there, and loneliness, and a sense of how vast and powerful a river can be. Those things transcend individual experience. So he used them to draw me in. And it worked.

Sumit Dayal: Jorgawa, Murilgunj, Madhepura, Bihar. The floodwaters are knee deep in what used to be Mahendra ThakurÕs wheat field just a few weeks ago. The flooding has submerged 100 sqkm hectares of farmland, slightly less than the area of New Delhi.

Kids and cameras: talking with students at "the kNOw"

May 13, 2010 § 2 Comments

Last week I got to interview four students from Fresno, CA who are part of “the kNOw” after school program. They produce a literary magazine and learn photography with artist Joseph Smooke. In last week’s post, I introduced the kNOw, and Joseph, so take a look at that if you’d like more background.

I asked Maria Valdez what she likes to write about. “Well, I write poetry. And I write about the system. The CPS[1] system. Because I’ve been in and out of it a lot,” she said. “And I write about my mom. Because she passed away when I was two years old.”

“I tend to want more than I have,” she said. “But I think taking pictures I’ve learned that what I have is enough, you know? When I go around and take pictures, it’s like, ‘Look at everything that I live on and everything that I have!’”

That statement startled me—how true it is! Sometimes, looking is having—that’s why we love pictures so much, because they give us experiences, relationships and objects. They help our imaginations stretch father.

“There are some things that you can’t change with photography,” she told me. “But what you can change is the littering, the trash…everything that you can see. Like graffiti.”

I asked Marcus Vega what impact he sees photography as having on the group of students as a whole. “It’s grabbing everybody,” he told me.

“Like when I come here, I get to escape from my daily life,” Marcus said. “It just cancels out everything. It’s like a whole new environment.

“With photography, it adds on to the tools that I’m equipped with to tell my story and what it is that I see around me. It’s another outlet.”

One of the questions I had for the students was how they thought the program impacts their community as a whole. Each of them told me that the kNOw’s program helps people learn more about what’s happening all around them.

Marcus said, “With the kNOw, basically, what we’re doing is we’re informing the community about what’s going on. Because everyone’s off doing their own thing. And it’s good to see someone else’s side of it. It offers a whole different perspective, a whole different view. Like what people usually ignore–it gives them a chance to sit back and really see it.”

This kind of work also builds relationships. Miguel Martinez described how people will come up to him and say, “You write for the kNOw?!” or “I saw your article!” In a way, it gives people permission to talk to each other, and to talk to each other about difficult and meaningful issues.

Jaleesa Vickers has written some incredibly challenging pieces about her experiences, including essays on self-harm, racism, depression and bisexuality. When I asked her about what kind of reaction she’s gotten to her work, she said, “For the articles that I’ve been writing, because they’ve been so personal, usually it’s been shock. But I kind of like that reaction from people, because it gets them to think.”

She approaches photography with the same mentality. “Just like writing, I like to get people to think. To think about what I’m taking pictures of—usually, my community: what it needs, what has happened to it.”

And the benefit? “I think what we’re doing just gives other people a greater sense of community,” said Jaleesa. “Because they’re so wrapped up in their own lives, what we do helps them know what’s going on around them, if they don’t have the time to see that. I think that’s the major benefit from doing all this.”

There are great images in the world. There are pictures that move you to tears, or to joy, or that seem to lift you up. But community-based-photography recognizes that there is another beautiful aspect to photography—that the process of making pictures builds relationships and makes people happier. You don’t have to be a famous photographer for your pictures to be powerful. And whether it’s used in communities that are strong or communities that are struggling, photography is a remarkable tool for bringing people together.

Says Miguel Martinez, “It’s just a real interesting, fun thing, taking pictures. I really cannot put it into words. When you get one good shot, you’re like, ‘Wow, I’m going to keep going.’”

In case you missed it last week, here is a slideshow of a few of the kNOw’s photos for 2010.

Thank you Jaleesa Vickers, Marcus Vega, Maria Valdez and Miguel Martinez for talking with me!


[1] Child Protection Services