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10 September 2019

Former Awardees Discuss the Value of the Women Photographers Grant

10 September 2019 - Written by PHmuseum

A year on from the recognition, Maria Sturm, Sinead Kennedy, and Alice Mann reflect upon the gender balance in the photography industry today and how the Grant supported their career development.

© Maria Sturm, from the series You Don't Look Native To Me, PHmuseum 2018 Women Photographers Grant first prize winner.

Now in its third edition, the PHmuseum Women Photographers Grant still holds the same aims and perspectives as when we first launched the initiative back in 2017. In the years since its inception, the Grant has contributed to enhancing the discussion around equal opportunities in our industry and we have been working extensively to support a greater number of projects realised by female creators. To gain a clearer understanding of the impact of the Grant and the current make-up of the gender balance in photography, we spoke with last year's winners about their experiences since receiving the contest's top prizes.

Maria Sturm, the first prize winner, begins by affirming the significance of grants such as ours. “Things are improving, even if it is important not only to talk about possible changes, but to act" she says. "Simply through their existence they are pointing to the imbalance there still is”. New Generation Prize winner Alice Mann echoes the sentiments, claiming that “we can’t fix something unless you are open to acknowledging it, and this needs to happen consistently as it’s not something that will change overnight”.

Second prize winner Sinead Kennedy strikes a similar tone, touching upon the doors that are beginning to open for female photographers. “The Grant creates greater access for women into an industry that has been so male-dominated” she remarks. "It helps to make this path more accessible to women. It would be good for organisations to commit to equal opportunity throughout their work and show leadership and intention towards actively filling the gaps in representation.”

© Sinead Kennedy, from the series To Set Fire To The Sea, PHmuseum 2018 Women Photographers Grant second prize Winner.

Hearing the experiences of past winners, it seems that validation of work produced is one of the most important benefits that the PHmuseum Women Photographers Grant can provide. Sinead Kennedy reflects on something that is often shared by many photographers: “It can be hard to manage the constant, creeping self-doubt as well as the juggle with time and money when making work. Winning the second prize was such an effective counter to that!” Maria Sturm shares the same opinion: The prize came at a point of exhaustion and therefore gave me the strength and confidence that there is an actual interest in my work and in the paradox of unrecognised Native American tribes”. Being endorsed by a panel of highly recognised professionals “has given me further validation that I’m on the right track” continues Sinead, while Alice adds that she “felt really honoured to be acknowledged by a platform that I have followed for years”.

If reinforcing confidence in the personal practice of photographers and receiving encouragement to keep working is highly valued, so to is claiming monetary prizes that grants can offer. Since winning the first prize, Maria says that she has “started a new body of work called Ein Gleichnis, which will be shown in the first collective exhibition of our group Apparat in August at Brandenburgisches Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst in Cottbus, and winning the grant helped a great deal”. The second prize likewise helped Sinead to “travel to Europe to take part in Parallel Photo Platform, which has been an incredible experience”, while Alice also reveals that she “was able to continue on my long-term project Drummies, working in South Africa for a few months earlier this year”.

In addition to the monetary prizes on offer - £10,000 (US$12,000) in this year's edition - taking part in the initiative can be great if you're looking to give international visibility to your work and create a catalyst for new opportunities, as Sinead emphasises “I maybe wouldn’t have had the chance to get magazine and newspaper commissions, an invitation to join Women Photograph, and be selected as one of World Press Photo’s Global 6x6 Talents in Southeast Asia and Oceania”. The opportunities beyond the monetary prizes are many, including involvement in educational projects. Alice, whom had the chance to be mentored by Fiona Rogers (Magnum Photos Global Business Development Director), was positively impressed by the experience: “I was really excited about having her as a tutor as I have so much respect for the way she has created a platform for women photographers - Firecracker - and it’s always amazing to meet and be able to work with inspiring women!”.

© Alice Mann, from the series Drummies, PHmuseum 2018 Women Photographers Grant New Generation Prize winner.

So what does it take to make your work stand out among all the applications? Sinead believes that “you have a good chance if the work you submit is solid and your submission is really clear. The value of clear and concise writing in projects is a key aspect, so I think that spending time refining the text accompanying a submission is vitally important.” Alice meanwhile feels that applicants will earn the juror's attention through work featuring “images that address themes around what you personally relate to as an artist or photographer”.

To close, Alice notes that the process alone of taking part in a serious open call can be seen as a learning experience: “it’s just about entering so even if you don’t win anything, you have still benefited. Although this may seem simplistic, it’s really some of the best advice I have ever been given! It’s all about continuing to try and continuing to improve”.

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The PHmuseum Women Photographers Grant aims to empower the work and careers of female and non-binary professionals of all ages and from all countries working in diverse areas of photography. Moving into its third edition, its mission is to support the growth of the new generations and promote stories narrated from a female perspective, while responding to the need to work for gender equality in the industry. To learn more and apply, visit phmuseum.com/grant. Early Bird Deadline: 19 September | Final Deadline: 10 October.

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