PhotoTALK with WPO: The funding game

November 22, 2012

By Sally Ashley-Cound

Wednesday 21st November saw the World Photography Organisation hold the first PhotoTALK event at the Frontline Club; a new series of talks which will take place around the world.

Chaired by Stuart Smith of SMITH design, the panel for PhotoTALK with WPO: The Funding Game consisted of Canadian photographer Donald Weber who recently won first prize in Current Affairs for the 2012 Sony World Photography Awards; World Photography Organisation Academy member photojournalist Carol Allen Storey and World Press Photo winning photojournalist Laura Pannack.

Weber started things off by talking about how applying for grants has changed the way he works:

“It’s turned me into a writer, I certainly wouldn’t call myself a writer but writing about my work has forced me to articulate my ideas in a stronger way… If I’m able to say exactly what I’m doing not only does it allow me to get a grant or apply for a fund but it also allows me to contact a magazine, or a gallery and say this is what I’m doing, this is why I’m doing it and this is why frankly you should be giving me money to go and do it.”

Pannack who has worked with charities such as Save the Children then spoke about making the most of the time that she was given access to people on a trip to South Sudan with Oxfam International

“I knew they were funding my trip so I really wanted to take advantage of it and I really wanted to work with them and just go out there and find more stories. When you’re given that access and given that funding you just have to run with it and be like ‘wow, I’m out here I just have to find everything.’”

Allen Storey, who left her job as Creative Vice-President of Worldwide Marketing for Chanel six years ago to take up a career in photography and now works with NGOs, spoke about how access was the most important thing for her when she was starting out:

“I knew I was going to fund it myself and the most important thing was access so that’s how I got started… I would not have been able to get commissions [with Save the Children and UNICEF] which allows me further access to the kind of work which I want to make without having a portfolio of work showing and illustrating that I’m prepared to bust my ass to go out there and work hard.”

A discussion then stemmed from questions put forward to the panel from the room and on Facebook.

Allen Storey answered the question ‘How do you know who to approach for funding if you’re a fine art photographer?’

“You have to also ask yourself ‘Who else would be interested that I could share this with?’… And that’s really important because at the end of the day publishers will say to you…’Who is going to buy this book?’…How you approach that, how you put your body of work together, how you organise it and the story behind it is all part of how you’re going to position it and get it out there. The most important thing to have in your own mind when you’re talking to people… is that they’re going to ask you ‘Why should I support this project?’ And you should be able to respond to that in a very sincere and convincing way.”

But there are less structured routes to funding, as Weber found whilst on an expenses only trip to Kosovo in 2009 with the Organisation for Co-oporation and Security in Europe:

“It was a six week assignment to go and photograph the first independent elections of Kosovo…’We’ll pay for your flight, you’re food’ that’s essentially all it was. I still wanted to do it because I wanted to go to Kosovo…but I needed to find a way to make a little bit of money. I was driving by [the National Library of Pristina] and thought that’s an archive, this is a brand new country, what’s the point of an archive, it’s about history… So I went in there, I said this is who I am, this is what I’m doing, this is what the project’s about. I’d made some cheap prints at the local print shop and gave it to them and said you guys should really own this because this is a part of Kosovar history… I ended up selling 12 pictures.”

Pannack:

“I think that for me defines funding…I don’t think there’s an answer to funding. As photographers, if we want to shoot something we’re going to go and shoot it and we’ll find the money, we’ll work in a bar or do what ever we want to do. I think what Donald is saying is that he used his initiative. He looked at the main question: who does this interest? Who is this going to benefit? Is it going to benefit a museum, is it going to benefit a world organization, is it going to benefit a major brand and then approaching those people and saying ‘look, I have something that you might want and I need some dollar to pay my rent right now so lets do an exchange.”