2011 United Arts Grant

United Arts Grant Unofficial Official Wrap Up

Officially, the period for the United Arts Grant I was awarded is over. I submitted the final papers, which you can see below, and had an exhibition of the images in the neighborhood where I captured most of them. I am "officially" done with the project. But not to fear my friends, I plan on hitting the streets like a bat strikes a ball. As I've stated earlier, I am going to continue the project. Seeing that I spent most of my time in a particular neighborhood for this project I am planning on venturing further into other neighborhoods in the Parramore/Holden Heights area. This won't be easy. I know that I will have to invest more time in relational preparation. Overall I know when this body of work is done it's going to kick butt. My goal is to showcase a visual representation of the neighborhood before it disappears. Stay tuned. It's going to be fun!  

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United Arts Grant Update

I just wanted to keep you up to date on what I've been doing with the United Arts Professional Development Grant I received in 2011. I've pretty much finished up with the project and have handed out all the prints to the people I've photographed. It's so awesome to see how everyone responds to seeing and handling their picture. I've gotta tell you, handing out the photos and seeing everyones reaction has got to be the most important and special thing I've ever done in my career. Making someone feel loved and showing them you care really can't compare to getting a check in the mail, receiving an award, or getting published.

In the coming weeks I'm going to be having a photo show at the Palms Trailer Park for all the residents. I'm also looking into venues outside of the park for the exhibit. If you know of anyone who might want to have these images in a show please do let me know.

I'm happy to announce that despite the grant being completed I don't think this project is over. I've begun talking with Phil over at POLIS on how I can spread this project further into the Paramore/Holden neighborhood. I'm really excited to see where this will go and I'll make sure to keep you up to date.

Anyway, over the next few weeks I'm going to be posting the final images from the grant for you to check out. Make sure you check back often and if you're curious about the grant I received you can check out my 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th post about it.

Here are some of the first images from the project. Enjoy!

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My Grant Experience, pt. IV

(If you haven't checked out part III of this series you can read it here) I know what you're thinking. "FINALLY! Can we now talk about photography?!" Why yes, yes we can.

Having spent several months hanging out and doing relational preparation in the Palms trailer park I finally felt comfortable bringing out my camera and lighting equipment about 2 months ago. (On a side note, I'm using a Canon 5d Mrk II with a 50mm 1.4 lens. I usually shoot around f2.0. For lighting I'm using a Q-Flash Model T triggered by Pocket Wizard Plus II Transceivers). I don't think I shot one picture the first time I brought out all my gear. Through experience I've learned it's better to bring out my gear but not use it for a couple of visits. That being said if I see a killer photo and feel the people are comfortable with me shooting I'll go for it. People will usually ask, "What's with all the stuff?" This is always a great opportunity to fill them in on what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. For this project I usually say something like this:

"I'm a photographer and I'm here shooting the people in and around the neighborhood. I'm interested in this area of town and am looking to improve my portfolio. What would you think about me taking your picture? I'm giving everyone who allows me to take their photo a print for free as a 'thank you.'"

I'm not going to lie, at times I am very nervous when I tell people this. Why? Several reasons. I'm a foreigner in their land, I'm asking them for something very personal, rejection hurts, people can get scared off, etc. Not surprisingly these fears are always false. I have yet to be rejected by the people in the neighborhood. Some decline, some accept, some say they'd rather wait until they are dressed nicer. As my mom always says, "It never hurts to ask."

With all that in mind you're probably wanting to see some pictures. Well here they are. Though this is just a teaser for what's to come:

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I know what you're thinking. "Do only kids live here?" No, adults do as well (though it would have been really awesome to find a neighborhood run by kids. LORD OF THE FLIES!). I usually always find myself photographing kids at first and love every minute of it. They can't wait to have their photo taken. I've found that adults tend to trust you once they see you interacting with kids. I don't know what it is but it seems that children are almost always a gateway to adults.

My Grant Experinece, pt. III (relational preparation)

(Make sure to check out the second post in this series, My Grant Experience, pt. II, if you haven't done so yet.)

It's easy to see a long term photography project and forget about all the relational preparation that must take place. Relational preparation is what takes place between and before the photographs are taken. For a little over a month and a half I would go over to the trailer park once a week to hang out for a couple of hours without my camera. I used this time to get to know those in the park, become comfortable with the surroundings, allow them to get to know me, and to show them I was really interested in them.

Let me interrupt myself to go on a philosophical (if that is even the right word for it) rant for just one moment. We live in a throw away culture. One dominated by the need to satisfy self. I am a part of this culture. A side effect of this type of living is people don't feel valued. People aren't stupid. They know when you are using them or taking advantage of them. I see this side effect rear it's ugly head quite often in photography (especially photojournalism and documentary). Photographers go in, looking to make the best image, and forget they are photographing people. Feelings are pushed aside, pain is pimped through the imagery, and the ones being photographed are left more scarred than they were before our arrival.

That being said, whenever possible, I try to spend as much time with the people I am photographing before hand. I don't bring my camera because I want to spend that time getting to know them. I'm not trying to hide who I am in any way. I'll freely tell them I'm a photographer and that I'm pursuing a photo project. I want the people I photograph to know that I respect them. I want to show them dignity. For me, this is the hardest aspect of shooting a long term project. Often times my mind is on the images and not on the people. I'm constantly readjusting my focus. The images will come but not until the relationships are built. In the end I always find the relationships are the most rewarding part. My images will one day fade from my mind. I'll forget about them as they get lost in terabits of data and they are replaced on my website with better images.

What I will not forget are the relationships.

Next up we'll take a look at some images!

My Grant Experience, pt. II (applying for the grant)

(Make sure to check out the first post in this series, My Grant Experience)

I'm not gonna lie, I was a little intimidated going into the grant writing process. I've always heard how hard and arduous applying for grants can be. Thankfully, the grant I was applying for through United Arts isn't overly complicated. To apply for the grant I had to have a project idea, form a budget and have supporting documents (in my case, the cost of a camera and an additional battery), have a resume, an artist statement, a work sample list, work samples, and optional support materials (media coverage, endorsements, etc.). Additionally, every applicant must fill out an online application. The online application is where you describe your proposal, your artistic history, the relevance the proposal has to your body of work or artistic mission, the planning and preparation involved, as well as some other information. Ok ok, I know. Sounds like a lot. Just breathe and hear me out. It's not as bad as it sounds. Below you'll see my artist statement, resume, and the narrative questionnaire I filled out.

  Next up I'll talk about the actual shooting process.

My Grant Experience

Get it? My Grant Experience! Like, "My Grand Experience!" I know, stupid joke...anyway...let's talk about my grant shall we? United Arts of Central Florida was founded in 1989 and they envision "a diverse, well-attended, fiscally sound arts and cultural community that serves residents and visitors to the Central Florida region." Since inception they have invested over $117 million in cultural organizations and cultural education. To tell you the truth, I had heard about UA before but never really knew what they did. One way in which they invest in the community is through their grant program. I heard about this program through a friend and, knowing I needed a new camera and also needed to kick my butt into gear and start a new documentary project, I decided to apply for one. The goal of the grant I was applying for was "to advance artistic excellence and management expertise." Thus, I could not just buy a new camera with the grant money. I had to do a project with the camera I was buying (which I was happy to do).

friend of mine (named Tony) has been very involved in the Paramore/Holden Heights neighborhood for a while. Paramore/Holden is a very impoverished neighborhood in Orlando, FL. Think "other side of the tracks" kind of neighborhood (both literally and metaphorically). Having told me about it and its history I decided I wanted to do a long term project on this neighborhood. I really enjoy going to unknown places and making environmental portraits so I knew this is what I wanted to focus on. When I applied for and was rewarded the grant I didn't really have a concrete idea on how I was going to do to this (though I knew it would be possible, albeit difficult).

Thankfully, another friend of mine (named Phil) has an organization named POLIS that seeks to "improve the well-being of the city" by engaging the talents of the poor. Coincidentally enough, he is working in the Paramore/Holden area. Once we were able to collaborate we came up with a more solid idea on how I could accomplish my grant within the parameters that I had originally specified (remember, when I applied for the grant I had an idea of how I could accomplish it and who I would work with, but no means by which to do it yet. Ideally I would have had everything ironed out beforehand. With documentary projects details can be hard to nail down sometimes).

Here is our idea. Within the Paramore/Holden neighborhood is a trailer park called The Palms. Phil has set up the "headquarters" of POLIS in a trailer within the park. Because of the organization’s location and involvement in the neighborhood they have made many inroads with the people. Having connections with someone who is trusted in the community is vital with this sort of project. Our idea was to solely focus on The Palms neighborhood, making environmental portraits of the residents within it.

In my next post I'll be talking about the grant writing process, seen here.