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Background

What We Do

The Documentary Photography Project believes in the power of images to advance social change. Through grants and special initiatives we support photography to engage and mobilize people around issues of justice and human rights.

The guiding philosophy of our project is photography’s ability to record human rights abuses, personalize the effects of conflict, document the struggles and defiance of marginalized people, and inform public discourse. However, where we distinguish ourselves from other photography funders is in our support of projects that go beyond documentation and use the medium to foster civic engagement, education, media attention, advocacy and reform.

Since 1998, the Documentary Photography Project has exhibited and financed (directly and indirectly) more than 300 photographers from around the world who have examined timely and significant issues that coincide with the Open Society Foundations’ mission

Our Approach

Our unique positioning between the fields of international human rights, activism, media, and photography informs all of our activities. We seek to balance amplifying photographers’ individual perspectives on issues while connecting their work to Open Society goals and initiatives. Simultaneously, we promote a mode of practice within the documentary photography community that values and supports:

  • Imagery that is produced and disseminated in a respectful and ethical manner, and that doesn’t misrepresent or cause harm to the people being photographed;
  • Well-researched bodies of work that document an issue over time, in an in-depth, unique, and nuanced way;
  • Investigative projects that inform us about a previously unknown, underrepresented, or misunderstood issue or community;
  • Photographers who represent a diversity of perspectives;
  • Photographers who go beyond raising general awareness by collaborating with those who can conceive of and implement concrete solutions;
  • Projects using emerging digital tools and interactive design to engage audiences across multiple platforms.

How We Fund

Grantmaking

Grant Awards to Individuals: Since 2004, the Audience Engagement Grant has supported 54 photographers to collaboratively and innovatively realize projects that go beyond representing an issue to enacting social change.

We recognize that cultivating meaningful partnerships and effectively implementing Audience Engagement projects require significant effort, time, and skill-building. Therefore, beginning in 2014, we will launch two-tracks of grant support for photographers, photo-based artists, and socially engaged practitioners in different phases of their projects.

As of 2014, we will no longer offer our Production Grant to Photographers from Central Asia, the South Caucasus, Afghanistan, Mongolia, and Pakistan. Over the course of four years, this grant supported close to 40 individuals through a mentorship and training program devised to cultivate local storytelling around issues of relevance to the region. As we move away from funding a dedicated program in this geographic area, we are actively seeking ways to continue this model of working and network-building. Learn more about this cohort of grantees and their projects.

Grant Awards to Organizations: To ensure that our limited resources as a program are leveraged to their maximum potential and impact, we carefully target our support to organizations. We seek out institutions that link documentary photography with strategic engagement on social justice or human rights issues and:

  • Provide production grants to photographers;
  • Provide training to photographers from underrepresented regions or groups; or
  • Support groups who respond to changes in the media environment by proposing new models for disseminating work and engaging audiences.

Are you an organization that meets the above criteria? Email a letter of inquiry to: docphoto@opensocietyfoundations.org with your organization and/or project’s mission statement. Please note that due to the small size of our staff, we will only respond to those inquiries we consider funding. See our previous and current organizational grantees.

Note: The Documentary Photography Project does not support film. For information on grants for documentary filmmaking, please contact the Sundance Institute, an Open Society Foundations grantee in Los Angeles, California.

Special Initiatives

Moving Walls exhibition: Since 1998, Moving Walls has showcased over 175 photographers in 21 group exhibitions that align with the Open Society Foundations’ mission to advance human rights and social justice. Each show is displayed at our offices in New York City, London, and Washington, D.C., providing the occasion to connect participating photographers to both Open Society staff as well as to our greater community of artists, advocates, media, and funding partners. Please visit our New York office’s public gallery space Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m., or visit the Moving Walls website for an archive of past exhibitions. Learn more about how to submit your work for consideration.

Originally conceived as a series curated across a broad range of issues, beginning in 2014, Moving Walls will alternate regularly between this open-topic format and thematically focused shows.

Photography, Expanded: Launched in 2013, this initiative was designed in collaboration with the Magnum Foundation, Wendy Levy, Aperture Foundation, and Parsons The New School for Design to inspire documentary photographers to expand their storytelling beyond the still image; to use emerging digital tools and interactive design to engage audiences across multiple platforms, and mobilize them around important social issues. Our 2014 programming features a series of labs, panel discussions, and a fall symposium. Get more information on event dates and application deadlines.