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Applying for Grants or Prizes? Here Are Tips for How to Make Your Application a Winner | PDN Online

Tips for writing an artist’s statement, editing and organizing your submissions, and pitching grant makers.

 © Jennifer Garza-Cuen  From Jennifer Garza-Cuen’s series “Eden,” about a community of Adventists, Mennonites and Quakers in Vermont. Garza-Cuen, winner of seven artist residencies, encourages photographers to keep applying. “If you get discouraged after a couple of rejections, it’s going to be very hard to build a life as an artist.”

Awards season is upon us, and deadlines for several of photography’s prestigious grants and prizes are approaching. PDN has turned to award winners and grant and contest judges to gather advice on how to put together a winning submission. In these excerpts from the PDN archive, you’ll find tips on writing an artist’s statement, editing and organizing your submissions, and how to pitch grant makers appropriate to your work. PDN subscribers can access the full stories via the links below.

How to Put Together a Standout Submission for Open Calls, Awards and Juried Reviews

Making a submission stand out amidst hundreds of others in an open call or awards judging is difficult. Jurors almost never look at physical prints, so artists have to rely on digital images and an artist’s statement to represent their work. PDN interviewed curators at nonprofit photography organizations to find out how artists can make a bigger impact when entering juried shows.

First, read the instructions. Ashlyn Davis, the director of Houston Center for Photography, says, “A lot of times people are just blasting [submissions]—it’s like getting a resume that’s not tailored to you.”

Laura Pressley, CENTER’s director, says that too often, artists submit work that is “going through the same tropes” and “telling the same stories” because they don’t know about similar work that preceded theirs. Jurors for CENTER’s portfolio reviews respond to projects that tell “a story in a new, imaginative way.” Sarah Stolfa of Philadelphia Photo Center says jurors “will notice” a thoughtful, well-edited sequence: “It feels together, right? That helps communicate the intentionality of the artist.” Davis adds, “Being conscious of the experience of the viewer is important.”

Find out how to make a bigger impact when submitting work for exhibitions here.

The Dreaded Artist’s Statement and How to Write One Well

PDN asked a curator and four photographers who also teach to offer their thoughts on what makes an artist’s statement readable and informative. “The emphasis should be on the basics of communicating something about the work,” says photographer Ron Jude. Jude believes artists are afraid that by writing too literally, they risk “pinning down the meaning of the work.” Endia Beal says that in her artist’s statement, she identifies her influences and her reasons for making her photographs. “I want to get you into what I’m trying to make and what I’m trying to say as an artist,” she explains. She sometimes asks students to tell her about their work in a conversation, before reading their statement. “They tell me this beautiful story about why they’re making the work and I’m like, ‘OK, this is not located anywhere in your artist statement.’” Jude asks students to write him a letter about their work, starting with “Dear Ron,” to make their writing less formal.

Above all, use your own language and avoid the jargon of artspeak. Says Clare Benson, “You shouldn’t rely on these really big and trendy words to make your work more interesting or make it sound like you have bigger ideas than you do.”

To read excerpts from artist’s statements by each of the photographers interviewed, see the full story here.

How I Got That Residency: Jennifer Garza-Cuen, Light Work Artist in Residence

Each year, Light Work in Syracuse, New York, invites 12 to 15 artists to participate in its residency, which comes with a $5,000 stipend, housing and access to the Light Work facilities and faculty. The deadline to apply for a 2020 residency is July 1, 2019. Jennifer Garza-Cuen, who has won seven artist residencies, won a residency at Light Work by submitting images from her “Imag[in]ing America” project. She says editing a portfolio to submit can take months “because you have to separate yourself from the making of the images in order to see what’s there.” By stepping away from the work for a time, “then I can see whether what I was after is actually conveyed. But there’s only so much distancing we can do on our own. Bringing in other people that you trust to respond is also really helpful. Also, if you can bring in people who are not from the photo world, that’s helpful too,” she says.

Garza-Cuen learned to write an artist’s statement from articles and books about “finding words to accompany your work,” she says. “Give it the same energy you would give [to making] an image, because it’s going to represent you to the people who don’t necessarily understand the work.”

She told PDN, “My biggest advice is, once you have the materials [portfolio, bio, statement, etc.] ready, you need to be applying a lot. Sometimes people apply for one thing, don’t get it, and they’re discouraged. If you get discouraged after a couple rejections, it’s going to be very hard to build a life as an artist.”

Garza-Cuen shares insights about applying for residencies, including the Light Work program here.

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