Photographer Danielle Villasana has won numerous accolades for “A Light Inside,” her project about transgender women. They include the 2015 Inge Morath Award (see “How I Got That Grant: The $5,000 Inge Morath Award“), a 2015 Pride Photo Award, and a place on Getty’s 2015-2016 Emerging Talent roster. Here is her advice about writing successful grant applications. Grant writing is hard, photography grants are competitive and, as Villasana notes, rejection is inevitable. But here she explain how you can turn the rejection of your grant application to your advantage.
“Research is key to a successful [grant] application. Make sure you know the topic well and why it’s important. If you’re proposing to continue working on a particular story, it’s also vital to show why it’s important to continue. If you’ve partnered with people or organizations who are working on similar issues, definitely mention that. State your goal clearly and explain what you would do with the funds. The jury needs to be convinced that you know what you’re doing, what you’re going to do, and why it matters.
“It’s really important to apply with confidence. If you don’t feel convinced or confident of your abilities, it will most likely show in your proposal. So make sure you feel good about your application and that you put your all into it. Seek feedback on both your images and text before submitting.
“My biggest advice for applying for contests and grants is: Feel thankful if you [win], but definitely don’t let it break you if you don’t. I’ve lost track of all the contests/grants I’ve applied to that I haven’t received. Not winning teaches you more than winning because it motivates you to question what you could have done better, and it can encourage you to say, ‘I do deserve this, I do believe in this issue, so I’m going to keep pushing until I reach that goal.’ It may take years, but the journey itself is rewarding and worthwhile as you will learn so much along the way. What’s the benefit in recognition that comes easily? Not much, I’d say. Again, for me it’s been the ‘No’s’ that have taught me the most and that have pushed me the farthest.
“I’d also like to mention that earlier on when showing my project on trans women in portfolio reviews, many editors told me that the work wasn’t that strong, or that I shouldn’t pursue the issue because it’s ‘trendy’ or ‘everyone has done this.’ I’m glad I didn’t listen, and that I listened to my heart instead. Definitely pay attention to people’s critiques on how you can improve, but ultimately follow your instincts. This industry is not easy, and at every turn someone or something will make you feel like you don’t deserve to be here. That being said, I believe most people mean well. Though people give tough critiques or maybe never answer your e-mail, it’s most likely because they know their honesty will mean more in the end, or because they’re too busy. Either way, it’s in your power to either let those tough moments break you or motivate you to keep pushing forward towards reaching your goals.”
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