The Documentary Photography Project believes in the power of images to advance social change. Through grants and exhibitions, we support photography to engage and mobilize people around issues of justice and human rights.
The guiding philosophy of the project is photography’s ability to record human rights abuses, personalize the effects of conflict, document the struggles and defiance of marginalized people, and reframe public discourse. We fund projects that go beyond documentation and use photography as a mechanism to foster civic engagement, organizing, advocacy, outreach, public awareness, education, and media attention.
Since 1998, the Documentary Photography Project has exhibited and funded (directly and indirectly) more than 300 photographers who have examined timely and significant issues that coincide with the Open Society Foundations’ mission. Our activities are informed by two overlapping mandates.
- Amplifying Open Society Foundations issues: photography augments the Foundations’ existing communication and advocacy efforts. We work closely with other Open Society Foundations programs and offices.
- Promoting a mode of practice within our field: we value long-term commitment to the issues or communities being documented. We seek:
- Imagery that is respectful of the community being documented.
- Imagery that is produced and disseminated in an ethical manner, in a way that doesn’t misrepresent or cause harm to the people being photographed.
- Photographers who represent a diversity of perspectives .
- Well-researched photographic projects that document an issue over time, in an in-depth, unique, and nuanced way.
- Projects that are critical and reflective.
- Projects that consist of a body of work, and not just a collection of single images.
- Investigative projects that inform us about a previously unknown, underrepresented, or misunderstood issue or community.
- Projects that go beyond raising general awareness, by connecting to relevant organizations and/or existing initiatives/campaigns.
- Projects that not only reach, but also engage target audiences.
The Foundations’ dedicated support for photography began over a decade ago. Our programs include:
- Moving Walls exhibition: The Documentary Photography Project’s longest-running activity, Moving Walls is a group photography exhibition series that features in-depth and nuanced explorations of human rights and social issues. Thematically linked to the Open Society Foundations mission, Moving Walls is shown at our offices in New York City and Washington, D.C.
- Audience Engagement Grant (formerly called the Distribution Grant): We support photographers who partner with an organization and take an existing body of work on a social justice or human rights issue and devise an innovative way of using that work as a catalyst for social change.
- Production Grants for Individual Photographers from Central Asia, the South Caucasus, Afghanistan, Mongolia, and Pakistan: We support individual photographers from this region to produce work on a social justice or human rights issue in their home country. These 6-month production grants are combined with mentorship and training by internationally recognized photographers.
- Organizational Grants: We provide general support and project grants for organizations that link documentary photography with strategic engagement on social justice or human rights issues; production grants to photographers covering pressing human rights and social justice issues; and production grants or training to photographers from regions that lack advanced-level training or professional opportunities. DPP also supports groups who respond to changes in the media environment by proposing new models for disseminating work and engaging audiences.
In addition, from 2006-2008, we organized an international tour of past Moving Walls photographers in the Middle East and North Africa that included exhibits and trainings for local photographers and young people.
Past support for documentary photography production came from the following programs:
- Individual Project Fellowships Program, which ran from 1996–2000 and supported Bruce Davidson, Donna DeCesare, Leslie Fratkin, Karen Furth, Gilles Peress, Darcy Padilla, and Zana Briski;
- Project on Death in America, which operated from 1994–2003 and supported Ed Kashi, Meryl Levin, Eugene Richards, Bastienne Schmidt, and Philippe Cheng;
- Soros Justice Media Fellowships, which supported photography until 2005 and funded Brenda Ann Kenneally, Andre Lamberston, Andrew Lichtenstein, Steve Liss, Joseph Rodriguez, Steve Rubin, and Tyrone Turner;
- Katrina Media Fellowships, a one-time award that supported Debbie Fleming Caffery, Keith Calhoun, Stanley Greene, Kamoinge (an African-American photographers collective), Chandra McCormick, Joseph Rodriguez, Kadir van Lohuizen, Clarence Williams, and Michael Williamson.
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.