The business of photojournalism

Phil Coomes
Picture editor


Times are hard, the economy is sluggish and photographers are far from immune to the situation. Add to that the vast number of people chasing commissions means it's a tough time for those looking for financial backing.

Yet there are options out there. Newspapers, magazines and websites are still commissioning work of course, but that's not the only way to be able to shoot the story you want to cover.

I asked journalist and photographer Miranda Gavin to take a look at the market and explore some of the ways photojournalists are funding their work.

Miranda Gavin

image copyrightMiranda gavin

Citizen journalism, the "accidental" journalist and bloggers have changed the way that news, current affairs and documentary photographs are produced, circulated and consumed. In this rapidly-changing environment, photojournalists and documentary photographers are using new funding opportunities, alongside more traditional ones, to realise projects.

Although crowdfunding is still coming of age, it is already proving to be a successful formula for financing creative projects. A recent business report by the Deloitte Canada Technology Media and Telecommunications team (TMT) predicts crowdfunding platforms will "double their pledges this year, raising just under £2 billion".

Today digital technology allows audiences to part-fund photojournalism through donations pledged to specific projects via online fundraising platforms. Rather than asking for large amounts of money from a small number of people, smaller sums are collected from a larger pool of people. Some platforms filter projects (Kickstarter) while others have an open-submission policy (Indiegogo) and let the audience decide.

image copyrightDavid Chancellor
image captionHuntress with Buck by David Chancellor

Taylor-Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize winner 2010 and Institute photographer David Chancellor, who won the competition with his portrait Huntress with Buck, recently released his first monograph, Hunters, thanks to the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform.

"It had a dual-purpose. Firstly, I could gauge audience interest in the book and secondly, Kickstarter (from my research asking other Institute photographers) seemed to have a very good relationship with the people who they accept to go on the platform. I was interested in testing the market with the potential audience to see how they would respond and who would buy the book."

Chancellor also tried to produce "as good a Kickstarter presentation" as possible and set a funding target of $20,000 (£13,000). He got more than $30,000 towards the book in which he explores the complex relationship that exists between man and animal/the hunter and the hunted.

"Documentary photographers can spend a huge amount of time working on projects that they care about passionately but that no one really sees or 'gets'," he adds. "I felt that using crowdfunding would give me a great opportunity to see whether people thought the book was interesting or not and whether they would fund it, without publishing the book," he says.

Another sign of the changing face of photojournalism was when the prestigious Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize for documentary photography took a breather in 2011 to re-evaluate the remit of its grant for supporting future projects and expanded the criteria for the prize to embrace the new ways photographers are working.

image copyrightdonal weber/vii
image captionInterrogations by Donald Weber has its UK premier at the White Cloth Gallery in Leeds on 21 February and is the result of four months spent inside an unnamed police interrogation room in Ukraine.
image copyrightDonald weber
image captionThe photographs document petty criminals such as cigarette smugglers, prostitutes and small-time thieves or 'Zeks', being subjected to intense interrogation.
image copyrightDonald weber
image captionIt took Weber four years to be granted access to the police interrogation rooms.
image copyrightDonald weber
image captionAside from a gun or a fist in some frames, the interrogator is absent, but the reality of his actions as the aggressor is uncomfortably plain for the viewer to see.

VII Photo Agency member Donald Weber is one recipient of the grant and he now runs workshops on how to write funding applications, adding that the market for 2013 is pretty much the same as ever.

"It's about being clever and making a market for yourself regardless of the ups and downs," he explains. "Opportunity exists, but you have to make it." He recently published a book, Interrogations, about human resistance to state power and extended his circle of contacts and possible sources of financial support by approaching organizations dealing with human rights, civil society, law and order, as well as institutions based in Eastern Europe where the book is set.

In the past, Weber funded 90% of his work through grants and foundations, adding that knowledge and a thorough understanding of a topic is vital if a project is to succeed and attract financial support.

"First, you need to build a body of work that is engaging and meaningful. From that, comes interest from outside parties. There are a lot of different funding and grant programs out there, but there are also a lot of places that may not necessarily seem right at first; you need to dig deep and see what you're really trying to say with your photography. How is it relevant to others that may have some money to keep shooting? Look in unexpected places, have a developed body of work, and develop your CV (very important), as it gives credibility and recognition."

Cultural and education manager Fiona Rogers has worked at Magnum Photos for eight years and set up an online platform Firecracker in 2011 to support European women photographers. Photographers are brought to her attention via a network of industry professionals and there are currently 24 women showcased. "I see the agency as a microcosm for a wider issue," she says. "There appear to be less women working as photographers and more choosing a professional path such as art buyers, dealers, picture editors etc. I felt that it was important to give promotion to this smaller percentage of photographers."

image copyrightJo Metson Scott
image captionThe Grey Line by Jo Metson Scott

To this end, the Firecracker Photographic Grant was launched last year to help a female photographer complete a documentary project. The £1,000 prize, including support from Genesis Imaging, was juried by industry specialists from a cross-section of disciplines and sectors and was awarded to British photographer Jo Metson Scott for The Grey Line. The work is described as "a sensitive documentation of soldiers speaking out against the Iraq war" and will be published by Dewi Lewis in March 2013.

Another award that is helping younger photographers, who are aged between 16 and 30 and based in the UK, is the IdeasTap Photographic Award. Through a process of nomination and selection 12 photographers receive cash prizes and mentoring from industry professionals. Recent award winners include Pierfrancesco Celada, who produced a multimedia work, Japan I wish I knew her name at Magnum in Motion NY (2011), Maria Gruzdeva and Roman Sakovich (2012).

image copyrightToby smith
image captionMaunsell Forts by Toby Smith

Approaching prospective clients independently can also pay dividends for those willing to put in the groundwork and prepare a pitch. Toby Smith graduated from the London College of Communication with a Masters in Contemporary Photography (2009) and is now one of a core group of Getty Images Reportage photographers, having previously been a "Featured" photographer.

Since he finished studying, Smith has pushed hard to get four major projects off the ground and sold. "The Scotland project was a real transition point," he says of his third project. "I did a lot of research and discovered that no one had done a project on hydroelectricity in Scotland. It was a subject that completely suited my portfolio photography, my interests and my aims, so I put a proposal together. I also thought that if I couldn't attract money for this type of project with my proposal, then I really needed to rethink things."

To this end, Smith employed a freelancer on a win-fee basis to help him and together they scoped the project and approached Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE). Smith got an appointment and spent £200 travelling to Scotland for the meeting. "It was a lucky shot. For the position I was in my career, they took a risk and gave me access and £12,000 (not much for a major project). I was honest in the meeting and sincere about it being my first major project since leaving uni. But rather than seeing it as a risk, they saw it as an opportunity." Two years later, Smith has been contacted by the energy company to do more work.

The world of photojournalism has experienced seismic shifts in the way it is produced and experienced. With the digital age, there are a greater range of funding opportunities available due to changes in communications technologies. But in the end not much has changed. Initiative, creativity, drive and persistence are still key.

Awards, scholarships and grants

Canon Female Photojournalists Award 8,000 euros (£7,000) is granted by the Association of Female Journalists, funded by Canon France and supported by Figaro Magazine, for women photojournalists to finance their projects and have their work exhibited at the festival in Perpignan, and later in Paris at the Cosmos Gallery.

Dorethea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize A fund of $10,000 (£6,500), a solo exhibition at the Center for Documentary Studies and inclusion in the Archive of Documentary Arts at Rubenstein Library, Duke University. The prize is to support documentary artists - working alone or in teams - who are involved in extended, ongoing fieldwork projects that rely on and exploit, in intriguing and effective ways, the interplay of words and images in the creation and presentation of their work.

Firecracker Photo Grant £1,000, plus other in kind support, for a female photographer working on a documentary project.

Ian Parry Scholarship International photographic competition for young photographers, who are either attending a full-time photographic course or are under 24, towards their chosen assignment.

Ideas Tap Photographic Award Twelve photographers are shortlisted and receive funds and mentoring to shoot their project. Two winners receive £5,000 and a paid Magnum internship in either New York or in London.

Inge Morath Award An annual award for a woman photographer under thirty years of age to assist in the completion of a long-term documentary project.

Magnum Emergency Fund This supports experienced photographers with a commitment to documenting social issues, working long-term, and engaging with an issue over time.

Syngenta Photography Award Exploring global challenges with $65,000 (£42,000) in prizes, including a professional commission.

Miranda Gavin is a photographic educator, journalist and photographer and Deputy and Online Editor of the bimonthly contemporary photography magazine HotShoe. Twitter: @MirandaGavin