Tomas van Houtryve, whose “Behind the Curtains” photo essay has won this year’s World Understanding Award at POYi, completed the eight-year project with the help of money he raised through the crowd-funding site Emphas.is. We don’t know if this is the first crowd-funded project to win a major award, but we’re pretty sure it won’t be the last, given the scarcity of support for documentary photography at magazines, and the growing popularity of crowd-funding to underwrite long-term photography projects.
Van Houtryve is currently using Emphas.is again in hopes of raising enough money to turn his recent work on North Korea into a book and exhibition.
When we asked him why he turned to crowd-funding for “Behind the Curtains,” he explained that he began “Behind the Curtains” in 2004, covering Nepal’s Maoist revolution. “It was certainly a challenge to keep the project going at full force when the 2008 U.S. economic crisis hit, followed by the global media and advertising crisis in the following years,” he says. In 2010, he won POYi Photographer of the Year – Freelance award. Still, he says, “I had to keep looking for new revenue streams, switching from mainly magazines to grants and eventually to crowd-funding.
“It started to feel pretty acrobatic to have to constantly think about shifting and reinventing business models while keeping my focus on the project.”
In March 2011, he began looking for funding on his own site and on Emphas.is. “My proposal was to finish my 21st century communism project by taking a final trip to Laos.