14 September 2021
14 September 2021 - Written by PhMuseum
Laura El-Tantawy, Florence Goupil, and Lebo Thoka explain how the Grant supported and motivated their artistic research while simultaneously giving them hope for a more inclusive future in photography.
© Laura El-Tantawy, 1st prize winner PHM 2020 Women Photographers Grant
How can we assess the impact of our annual Grant designed to support women and non-binary photographers? Is it still a meaningful initiative now that it has reached the 5th edition? To have a better understanding, we asked a few questions to last year’s prize winners who shared their personal experiences and offer their perspectives on where photography is today in terms of equality and diversity.
Laura El-Tantawy, a British/Egyptian photographer who focuses her research on social and environmental issues observed through the prism of identity and sense of belonging, received the 1st prize with a long term project about the relationship between man and nature told through the life of small farmers. Looking back at the first two decades of her career, Laura believes that “things have tremendously changed in the industry, the biggest being not only acknowledging gender disparities but having dedicated organisations who are actively doing something about it.” Laura keeps on saying that “in a field centred around storytelling and representation, it is vital to inform the public and potentially influencing decision-makers that there is power in solidarity and equal representation.” Something considered relevant also by Florence Goupil, a French/Peruvian documentary photographer - who received last year’s 3rd prize - whose work focuses on territory, spirituality and identity within Latin America. “I feel that photography has been used as a dominant language - she says - ignoring singular expressions and unique sensitive looks. Women and those that identify themselves as such, who see and portray the world differently, at no time should be repressed by the governing old standards.”
For new sensitivities to be able to express themselves within a system that still needs to be improved, a certain encouragement and support might result quite important. “Seeing that my work became more visible and appreciated all over the world helped me feel confident in what I am doing”, keeps on Florence. “I now have more ideas on how to develop my project thanks to the positive public response I received after winning the prize.” Even in the case of a photographer like Laura, with many years of experience behind, receiving a grant is vital for keep producing new work. “Winning an award is like receiving a hug from someone you don’t know that tells you I care about what you are saying, it resonates with me,” she says, adding that they shouldn’t be seen as ego-busters, rather like a way to “nurture a healthy perception of the self to avoid getting lost and being defeated by all the so many rejections present on every creative path.”
In times of a global pandemic and economic crisis, the monetary contribution of a grant plays a big role in further developing their career. It is the case of Lebo Thoka, a Johannesburg based photographer - last year's New Generation Prize recipient - that centres her visual research on the complexity of being a woman within a violent patriarchal society. “The pandemic has made being an African artist extremely difficult,” she affirms. ”Winning the award helped me fund both my living expenses and practice, also serving as an important validation that reminds me I should keep doing my work.”
Maybe for these reasons is already worth presenting your work. Although not everyone can have the work highlighted and supported, Laura believes that preparing an application, over and over again, is an extremely important step in a photographer’s path: “Writing and editing a series of images for a grant proposal has been one of the greatest learning tools, it helped me rediscover my practice and my commitment to it. It is a fundamental exercise, through which I got to understand how to revisit my work and articulate it differently or more succinctly.”
© Florence Goupil, 3rd prize winner PHM 2020 Women Photographers Grant
So which are their suggestions at the moment of preparing your application? “Be bold and authentic both in your editing and writing,” remarks Laura, “be truthful, factual and sensitive towards the story and the people whose story you are telling. But most importantly, you get as much as you put in, if you don’t believe in your work no one else will.” On a similar note are the thoughts of Lebo: “Don’t doubt yourself. Just apply and give it a shot, because you miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take. Women photographers are still largely a minority, reason why we should take advantage of initiatives like this that help us keep creating and contributing to work that matters.” Florence sums it all up, remarking on the importance of being truthful to one’s language and vision, instead of structuring and editing the project to please and suit certain standards. “We, creators, have the strength to change the photo industry,” she comments, “and since we know that it starts with spreading awareness, let's move from there and elevate it as much as possible with our work.”
The PHmuseum Women Photographers Grant is currently open for submssions. With no age limitations 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/w21. Final Deadline: 7 October