What happens when you put Kira Pollack, Whitney Johnson and Maggie Steber in a room with more than 200 photographic projects? If you were sitting in the room, a whole lot of learning happened. And they chose several bodies of work to receive significant grants.
The setting was Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communication. The reason for the gathering was to judge entries in the 2012 Alexia Grant, from both professionals and students. Tom Kennedy, as the Alexia Chair at Newhouse, lead the day’s proceedings deftly.
Also bringing a wonderful presence and voice to the day were Dr. Peter and Aphrodite Tsairis, founders of the Alexia Foundation for World Peace and Cultural Understanding, which funds the grants and the chair at Newhouse. Alexia, for whom the foundation was named, was their daughter. She was killed on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 and was a Newhouse student.
Winning any grant is tough. This one is uniquely challenging because of its goals. Kira, Whitney and Maggie were considering not just which images stood above others but also whether the proposal met the demands of the grant, whether the proposal was clear and could be accomplished by that photographer, whether students could also learn from the project. In other words, there was as much burden on what and how the photographers proposed as there was on the photography they presented.
Some things I heard Maggie, Whitney and Kira say about proposals: Be specific about what you’re going to do with the grant money, what part of the work you’ll be able to accomplish. If you strive to accomplish all of a project with the grant money and that doesn’t appear to be realistic, then you probably won’t get the grant. The same is true if the project is all but done and you don’t outline how you’ll use the money to add value to the project.
Some subjects just weren’t in line with the mission of the grant, so read the mission carefully and craft your proposal so it clearly falls within the arms of the grants’ embrace.
If you use one body of work to show that you can do a project, while proposing to do another project with the grant, you’re expecting judges to make a leap of faith. That’s risky, unless they happen to be familiar with your work and know that you could pull it off. None of the projects under final consideration were like this, at least not this year.
On the photographic side, Kira spoke of the need to show great photographs and then explained that great photographs have to be technically well executed (light, color, composition, etc.) but more important is that the photographer’s voice needs to be strong, his or her style/approach to making photographs has to be distinctive in order for that work to compel her.
Maggie spoke throughout the day of the need for photographers to feel passion and compassion for their subjects, to strive to tell stories that engage dimensionally.
And Whitney, in talking about individual proposals and bodies of work, recognized the strength of clarity of voice and how high photographers strive to reach with their work - and in some cases, the paucity of both.
What won? Stay tuned to the Alexia site for the announcement.
And here is the announcement about the winners:
Justin Maxon, the winner of the 2012 Alexia Foundation professional grant will receive a $15,000 grant toward the completion of his project which aims “to shed light on the frightening reality of how many murders go unsolved every year in America.”
Justin Maxon is an independent documentary photographer living in San Francisco. Maxon has received numerous awards for his photography, from competitions like World Press Photo, UNICEF Images of the Year, POYi, and NPPA’s Best of Photojournalism. He won the Deeper Perspective Photographer of the Year at the 2008 Lucie Awards, the same year he was named one of PDN’s 30 Emerging Photographers to Watch. He was selected to participate in World Press Photo’s 2010 Joop Swart Masterclass. Maxon was also the second place student winner in the 2008 Alexia Foundation competition. He is one of only two photographers to have earned Alexia Foundation grants as a student and professional.
There were 191 professional applications this year, which the judges narrowed down to three finalists.
In addition to Maxon's grant award as the professional winner, Kathryn Cook earned a Judges Special Recognition award and will receive special grant funding from Aphrodite and Peter Tsairis, the co-founders of the Foundation, to complete her project “Memory of Trees,” which “explores the aftermath of the 'denied' 1915 Armenian Genocide in Ottoman Turkey, and the reality of living as an Armenian in Turkey today.”
Kathryn Cook is a documentary photographer based in Rome, concentrating on personal projects and assignments. She is represented by Agence VU, a Paris photo agency. A graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder, she began her career with the Associated Press in 2003 in Panama. In 2006, she left the AP to do an independent project covering Evo Morales’ campaign to become Bolivia’s first indigenous president and to document his support base. She then moved to Istanbul to begin work on the project that has received the Judges Special Recognition award.
Announcing the 2012 Alexia Foundation student winners
Katie Orlinsky won the first place award of a stipend towards a three-month MediaStorm internship in Brooklyn, as well as funding to complete her project, “Innocence Assassinated: Living in Mexico’s Drug War.” Her project looks under “the well-known narrative of cartels and crime to a less covered story of Mexico’s drug war: the innocent victim.”
Katie Orlinsky is currently a student in the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism as Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism Fellow. She regularly works for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and various non-profit organizations around the world. Her work has been published in Life, Newsweek, Le Monde, Stern, Time, Paris Match, Adbusters and the International Herald Tribune among others. Katie graduated from the Colorado College with a BA in Political Science and Latin American Studies.
Oxana Onipko won the second place award to fund her project, “Russian North Caucasus, Dagestan: Violence Waits in the Shadows.” “A documentary project about the complex and violent conflicts inside Russia’s North Caucasus Republic of Dagestan, the most dangerous place in Europe.”
Oxana Onipko, is a Russian photographer based in Moscow, studying at the Rodchenko School of Photography and Multimedia. While there, she is focusing on the contemporary social issues of the former Soviet Union. After four years of a career in finance, Oxana decided to return to school as a means to pursue a career in photojournalism and documentary photography. She has worked as a photo editor for the Moscow Times and has had work recognized by POYi, as well as exhibited in Moscow.
The judges awarded three Awards of Excellence to students Gabriel Romero, Raymond Thompson, and Ismail Ferdous.
Gabriel Romero, a graduate student at Brooks Institute, Santa Barbara, Cal., is doing his project on the people of Israel and Palestine embroiled in conflict.
Raymond Thompson, a University of Texas-Austin graduate student, is focusing his project on the effects of mass incarceration within African American communities and families in a “post-racial” America.
Ismail Ferdous, a student from Pathshala South Asian Media Academy, in Dhaka, Bangladesh is doing his project on the people of a place called Shatkhira, Sundarbans who are being profoundly affected by environmental changes due to the impacts of global warming.
The competition was judged at Syracuse University on Feb. 25, 2012. The judges were Whitney Johnson, Director of Photography at The New Yorker, Kira Pollack; Director of Photography at Time; and Maggie Steber, independent documentary photographer.