What I learned from winning the IdeasTap Photographic Award

What I learned from winning the IdeasTap Photographic Award

By Rachel Segal Hamilton IdeasTap 01/05/15

As part of a series looking back at some of our biggest briefs, we asked past winners of our annual photography competition with Magnum Photos to share some useful lessons they’d learned through the process...

Jack Latham (2014)

“I learned how inspiring it can be to collaborate with people from different creative backgrounds. I teamed up with writer, Sofia Kathryn Smith, when I was working on my winning series. The project focused on a really complex police case which I don’t think I could have translated just using photographs. The suspects in the case were told so many times that they were guilty that they became convinced this was true even though they were innocent. So at its heart it was a project about stories. Working with a writer opened me up to new ways of visual storytelling.”


Karolina Jonderko (2014)

“Women in the reborn doll community, which I wanted to photograph for my project, were suspicious of the media because they’d had some unpleasant coverage in the past - especially in the UK. I was a member of one reborn Facebook group for two years but when I got in touch with the admin about my project she blocked me. It felt impossible. I decided to contact a reborn doll artist in Poland, where I’m from. We met up and I explained what I was doing. She introduced me to Polish women who had the dolls. Back in the UK, I met another woman at a reborn doll fair and she helped me to access the community here. We’re now good friends. Online, people can’t tell if you’re sincere so when you’re working on a sensitive subject like this, you have to meet people in person. If they see your intentions are honest, they vouch for you.”


Pierfrancesco Celada (2010)

"The most eye-opening experience was the time I spent interning at Magnum Photos in New York. Working with the Magnum in Motion team, I learned that less is more when deciding how many images to include in a multimedia. Also that you shouldn't be too literal with the audio. In the multimedia I did for my project, I put photographs of the street together with the sounds of the street. But in the version I developed with Magnum the sounds are much more atmospheric."


Maria Gruzdeva (2011)

“I had the invaluable opportunity to shoot my project with a camera I haven't used before, but which I felt was necessary for the project. It was a large format camera, which provides great quality images - very sharp, very detailed and exactly right for the aesthetic quality I was aiming to get with my images. It seemed quite complicated at first, but quickly I learned its technical aspects. Another very useful lesson I learned from winning the competition is how important it is when writing statements and proposals to plan in advance and put my work in context.”


Marco Kesseler (2012)

“The work that I produced for the IdeasTap Photographic Award would not have been possible to the same extent without having a great fixer. Finding the right person was a process that took a while but was very important, especially when working in an unfamiliar place with a foreign language. Having spoken to several translators I ended up working with my fixer, Ilya, after recommendations from other photographers on the ground and speaking with him directly before going. It was vital to be able to plan aspects with him beforehand so that he could have a good contact base with the people I hoped to photograph.”


Alice Myers (2012)

“The project that IdeasTap funded taught me so many things. I learned a lot about how to approach fraught political situations with a camera in a way that felt open, respectful and creative. I found that it worked really well to do the project over a long time period - two years - and to go back repeatedly, as I was able to build a better understanding of the place and to get to know people better. Working in this way, I began to see how you can use photography as a starting point for interaction and negotiation. This was a very valuable experience.”


Abbie Trayler-Smith (2013)

“Through the mentoring sessions, multimedia and presentations to the judging panel, I learned how to take my project to the next level, and how to tune in to what was really important to me about my work. I decided to include my personal diary archive as part of the project because I realised I needed to show that I wasn’t just a voyeur but was part of the story. It was important for me to be real, to share the same authenticity that I’d shown my subjects with my audience.”


Vasantha Yogananthan (2014)

“I learned a lot about how to present a project to a jury. I spend a great amount of time applying to grants and the question I always ask myself is: how to present a body of work in progress? The key is to trigger the jury's interest in what will emerge from your future trips, even though the project might be hard to understand in its early stage. Never forget that you need to do that in a straightforward way as the jury won’t have much time to review your work. You need to work on your editing with someone else. In your edit, discard pictures you’re not sure about. Your introduction text must be clear and short, no more than 200 words. You should work hard on it as it’s also going to make the difference.” 


Souvid Datta (2013)

“The words ‘find your personal vision’ were repeated to me a lot during the Photographic Award. It took me a while to discover what this meant. My approach until then had been shaped by great photographers - the Jim Nachtweys and Steve McCurrys. I understood the intellectual value of originality, but my technique, and perceptions of good or bad were adopted. I had to understand that what an image makes you feel is just as important, if not more, than what it shows. What has a visual resonance for you, will be different to anyone else. It’s this voice that I had to learn to trust.”


Lee Price (2013)

“I learned how important a press pass is when trying to gain access to secure establishments like prisons and hospitals - very! I wouldn’t have been able to do my project without one, people took me more seriously and it proved that I was there for the reasons I said I was. There are a few different companies that issue them - because I was working abroad, in Uganda, I got an international press pass through the International Association of Press Photographers (IAPP). To become a member of the IAPP, you have to show some evidence that you’ve had work published, maybe three or four examples, you pay $96 and then the press pass is free.”


What did you learn as an IdeasTap member? Let us know in a comment!

Image by Scott Schiller, on a Creative Commons license

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