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Last Year Awardees On Receiving The PhMuseum Women Photographers Grant
Published3 Oct 2023
While their careers were pushed forward, Farren Van Wyk, Vân-Nhi Nguyen, Victoria Jung and Sarah Pabst recall how a boost in confidence represented a motivation to pursue more work that matters to them.
What motivated you to apply for the grant?
Farren: I learned about PhMuseum during art school while researching for grants. PhMuseum struck out as it is not only a platform for annual grants, but also facilitates masterclasses and portfolio reviews. Next to that, it feels like a community and I love reading the interviews of photographers from all over the world. I just naturally gravitated towards applying for the Women Photographers Grant for the first time in 2019. All the jury members are women which made me feel that the sensitivity and energy that I put into the work would be better understood. Also, in 2020 I got a portfolio review with Nick Kirkpatrick whom I am still in contact and I received various mentions on the PhMuseum online platform in the following years leading up to being the 1st Prize recipient in 2022.
Vân-Nhi: I looked through past recipients of the grant, and I understood that the platform’s proposal was aligned with my need in strengthening and continuing my work.
Victoria: I have been following PhMuseum for a long time and have friends who have been shortlisted or awarded. I have always loved the projects shown and have gotten to know new photographers through the posts and the website. Last winter I applied for a lot of grants, contests and festivals - once you have your texts and edits ready, you can use this base to apply to a lot of things.
Sarah: I had already been shortlisted before as well in this same grant with a different project. In this particular case, I participated with a work that wasn’t totally concluded, so I applied quite spontaneously, because, if you don’t dare you can’t win. I think very often we women refrain from participating in grants because we think our projects are not “perfect” yet.
How did your career evolve after becoming a grantee? In which ways did this help the continuation or the dissemination of your work?
Farren: Receiving the Women Photographers Grant gave me the freedom and funding to create portraits that I only dreamed of and I purchased an Epson scanner which was a huge deal. I never had one before as it is quite an investment as I always asked friends and one of my art school teachers to use theirs. I’ve also been asked to attend panel discussions and give talks about my work. One of the talks took place at the prominent FOAM museum in Amsterdam. People have been taking notice of this project since I received the Grant and it has led to two exhibitions that will take place at the end of this year.
Vân-Nhi: It’s been an incredible learning experience after. The grant has allowed for me to take a deeper look into my process of image making, enabled travels to learn more about history, stories and anecdotes which all equally play crucial parts of the work.
Victoria: It felt like new doors were opening. Sometimes it's hard to say which new contacts came through which connection, but there was definitely a new level of possibility after.
Sarah: I’ve been working a lot after being a grantee. The Project “Everyone in me is a Bird” got much visibility, many people reached out to me afterwards. I used the prize money to invest in gear, which was super helpful. It was part of my portfolio as finalist in Photographer of the Year in the Picture of the Year Latam contest, and will now be exhibited at the Festival della Fotografia Etica in Italy. It definitely empowered me to continue the project.
What personal value did this recognition have for you?
Farren: It is though to be a photographer as your intrinsic motivation has to come from within, but there is also the external case of funding and acknowledgement from gallerists or people who have a position of power to exhibit or fund the work thus helping it grow. This creates complex situations and for years I always hung the value of my work on external recognition. I have learned that my work matters and when I value it, I will meet people who believe that too. After reading jury member Jane’a Johnson’s written piece about why the jury chose my work for the grant I felt like the jury fully understood where the work was coming from and what it intended to communicate. I felt seen and that meant the world to me which gave me the motivation to grow the work.
Vân-Nhi: It helped me further my research into the work in different facades and perceptions, which has and always will be my priority.
Victoria: It just gives you the confidence to keep working on your project or to present it more to others. And that's helping a lot. Because there are always so many doubts in the project process, which can sometimes lead to a lack of motivation for me. And even if not all the things I am striving for work out, I already got this recognition and that really helps to believe in your project again.
Sarah: When personal work is awarded, this always feels extra special, as it’s something very intimate and somehow you feel exposed when sending it in. It encouraged me to keep on working, to send work to grants, to pursue this personal project. I’ve always been a fan of this grant, as the projects are often so creative and inspiring, so being among the winners felt really great.
What has your experience of gender inequality been so far, working in this field?
Farren: The field of photography is a complex space that differs per country in my opinion. As a woman of colour who was born in South Africa which was colonized by the Netherlands where I reside, I have noticed racial inequality too. I felt like I needed to work twice as hard and that white art institution did not want to touch my work because it confronted Dutch colonialism. This touches me personally as I was born during apartheid in South Africa and was architected by the Dutch. I once had a conversation with a white male art director who somewhat insisted that I needed to create work in colour. I have grounded the argument around being a Coloured woman who is not white nor black and lives in a symbolic grey area from which the work grows. We all connect to work according to our personal taste and so do art directors. Yet when it comes to being a director, you are expected to have expertise and a sense of what is happening in the field of photography. I did not feel that he understood my work, yet he had a position of power and I did not. This makes the photographic space more complex as not only gender inequality but power relationships and race inequality are happening too. There is a growing awareness and steps are being taken to acknowledge artists of colour and women, but more initiatives are needed. I am thankful that PhMuseum has an annual Women Photographers Grant and strives against gender inequality.
Vân-Nhi: Gender inequality is an issue that though might be reductive to even talk about today, but there is always room for improvement. Stats and numbers of feminine identities within the space is low and thus initiative that uplift our voices are still needed to bring forth more talents and spaces.
Victoria: In my experience, inequality is very often demonstrated on a daily basis when it comes to believing that your work is good enough, that your topics are relevant enough, and that it's worth continuing. It's very important that a special grant like this highlights all the female power that already exists in the industry. Just looking at the shortlist is sooo inspiring.
Sarah: I think every woman (and non-binary person) in this industry has experienced gender inequality. With a male photographer, people assume that he is capable. A woman has to prove it first. I’ve been bullied, harassed, and mansplained countless times. I’ve been scared that becoming a mother would end my career, which had just started when I got pregnant with my first child. I’ve worked very hard to be where I am now and it has definitely not been easy. I think initiatives like the Women Photographer Grant are very important, because they encourage women to apply, to step over these “it has to be perfect” and “I am not good enough” inner voices. Also they show a wider variety of work that often otherwise would be unseen.
Do you have any advice to share with future applicants?
Farren: When things around creating, funding or getting your work seen gets tough, double down. There is a verse by J. Cole where he raps “If I’m betting on myself then I’ll completely double down”. It is going through the fears, frustrations, problems that arise, sacrifices, turning around every penny that you have and working even harder to get to a point where you will meet someone who understands the work and will facilitate your growth. I’ve wanted to give up multiple times as I’ve been creating photographic work since 2012 and the PhMuseum Women Photographers Grant was the first funding I ever received. That took ten years but it was worth it. So if you know deep down within yourself that your work is worth it and that you have a love-and-hate relationship with the process, don’t ever stop. Double Down.
Vân-Nhi: I’d just say to find the story that feels truest to oneself, everything else is just background.
Victoria: Just do it. Apply. A lot of things don't work out. And that's the way it is for me a lot of times. But then some things might work out, and that's the most important.
Sarah: First of all, send your work!!! You can never win if you don’t send it. And before that, find someone you trust to look over your edit. Editing our own work can be tricky, you are often emotionally attached to images that might not really work well. Someone who doesn’t know your project, background and motivation has to be able to understand it without explanations. Find a mentor, an editor, another photographer whose criteria you trust and double-check that edit. There are many great projects that don’t win because they are poorly edited. And last but not least - don’t be sad if you are not awarded. Revisiting work, preparing edit and texts is already a great practice on its own and a great opportunity that the jurors see your work.
Can you give us a glimpse of what will be next in your work?
Farren: The next work will be a series of self-portraits. My work in South Africa was community-based, and then came Mixedness is my Mythology which is more intimate around family. Now a shift is taking place, a going within, that is being expressed through self-portraiture. Portraiture within the history of South Africa being colonized by the Netherlands, people of colour were made photographic objects in order to segregate people. Here I am taking back what is rightfully mine, the power to become who I want to be, how I want to identify myself and visualise that through self-portraiture.
Vân-Nhi: I’m currently working on a project that focuses on the issue of adaptation in my local economy of people as they combat their own living environment in an urgent bid for novelty.
Victoria: At the moment I'm working on various exhibitions, and when things slow down a bit, I'm looking forward to finally finishing the design of a book I've been working on and publishing it.
Sarah: “Everyone in me is a Bird” is part of a larger, somehow life-long autobiographical project on motherhood, family and grief. I am working on the next chapter of it, which combines photos I took after my brother passed away and current images, archives and intervention. Besides, I am part of the collective Ayün Fotografas and we are working on a large project on maternal health in Latin America. My chapter of this group project investigates systemic racism and obstetric violence in Brazil, it’s very moving. I am also on the finishing line of my National Geographic Explorer Grant that deals with forest dieback, climate change and our emotional connection to the forest in Germany. Motherhood, nature and the circle of life and death play an essential role in all my work, maybe not intentionally but I always come back to it.
The PhMuseum 2023 Women Photographers Grant is currently open for submissions. Its aim is 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. To learn more and apply, visit phmuseum.com/w23. Final Deadline: 12 October