Applying for our editorial grants? Photo editor gives behind-the-scenes look

April 10, 2012 | By Jamie Penney | Community, Go, News, Photography, Photojournalism

For the past five years I’ve been running the day-to-day operations of the Getty Images Grants for Editorial Photography. It’s always a fascinating experience, and gives me the opportunity to see great images from photographers that I wouldn’t otherwise be working with.

[bra_slider w=660 h=442]Photo by Lynsey Addario - 2008 Getty Images Editorial Grants Winner - DarfurMiquel Dewever-Plana - 2010 Winner - The Other WarJerome Sessini – 2010 Winner – So Far From God, Too Close to AmericaIan Martin – 2008 Winner – Hidden MinorityKrisanne Johnson – Winner 2009 – I love You Real Fast[/bra_slider]

The process begins every year on April 1 when we open up the application system, and leave it open for a month.  Last year we had more than 400 applications, from about 50 different countries.  Probably 75 percent of the entries come in on the very last day, and a good chunk of those come in right before midnight.  Waiting until the last minute seems to be a near-universal strategy. 

For our own research, we assign each entry into certain categories, based on subject matter.  The most common category for entries is cultural studies – anything focused on documenting the life of a certain group or subculture.  The next most common subject is conflict, followed by health.  Environmental subjects have also been popular in recent years. 

Once everything is in and organized, we ask the judges, who are independent industry professionals, to go through the entries and select their Top 10.  These are the entries that we will review on judging day.  You’d think there would be a lot of overlap in what they choose, but they always have almost completely different selections.  Having said that, there is usually one project that gets selected by almost every judge. 

On judging day, we all gather in a dark screening room, either in New York or London.  I run a slideshow of the images from the selected entries while Aidan Sullivan, Getty Images VP of Photo Assignment, reads the proposals out loud.  After looking at everything, the judges vote on what should go to the next round.  Then, we look through those entries again, more closely, and discussions begin. 

There’s a lot of going back and forth, comparing this or that image, and reading and rereading the proposals.  The first couple winners are usually agreed upon fairly quickly.  The final spot always takes a while, and a lot of discussion.  The judges take their job very seriously, and often make impassioned arguments for certain entries.  A couple years ago we had an entry that was initially rejected by four of the judges, but the fifth one kept pushing for it, and eventually the others came around and agreed that it deserved to win.  That photographer went on to make some stunning images with his grant. 

There are so many entries that deserve a grant; the amount of talent that’s out there is unbelievable.  What often distinguishes the winners, in a pool of impressive entries, is an interesting and well-thought-out proposal.  Also, the story needs to feel like it has room to grow – it has to be achievable, but also unfinished. 

The best part of judging day is when we call the winners to tell them the news.  Some winners have started crying; one was driving and almost got into an accident.  Sometimes it takes them a little while to comprehend what’s happening.  In a few cases I’ve called the photographer back the next day and they aren’t really sure what happened; they thought it was some bizarre prank call. 

The results are officially announced at Visa pour L’image in September, after which the winners start working on their projects.  The work that has been produced with these grants is beyond impressive.  Being a part of making it happen is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. 

Editor’s note: Jamie Penney is a senior photo editor, global assignment & reportage, with Getty Images. Interested in applying for this year’s Grant for Editorial Photography? Full deatails are available on our Grants site.

Images in slider include:

1. Photo by Lynsey Addario – 2008 Winner – Darfur: Rebels with the Sudanese Liberation Army patrol through Jebel Marra in West Darfur, Sudan.

2. Photo by Miquel Dewever-Plana – 2010 Winner  – The Other War: An official from the anti-narcotics department observes the X-ray of Ricardo G., 23, who was arrested at the airport in Guatemala City where he was preparing to fly to London. He had swallowed 12 grams each of cocaine.

3. Photo by Ian Martin – 2008 Winner – Hidden Minority: Residents and visitors of the abandoned hospital in Vereeniging, South Africa smoke “white pipe” Mandrax (Quaaludes), ground-up and smoked with daga (marijuana) in a broken-off bottle neck.

 4. Photo by Jerome Sessini – Winner 2010 – So Far From God, Too Close to America: An abandoned home in Ciudad Mier, Tamaulipas, Mexico.  Hundreds of families have fled from Mier amid reported death threats from drug cartel Los Zetas.

5. Photo by Krisanne Johnson – Winner 2009 – I love You Real Fast: A teenage boy practices his hip hop dance moves in the streets of his neighborhood in Swaziland.

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