NPPA Announces Seven 2013 Short Grant Winners

 DURHAM, NC (October 14, 2013) – Seven talented photojournalists will be receiving $3,000 each to work on photography projects as winners of the 2013 NPPA Short Grants Competition. The winners are Matt Black, Diane Weiss, April Saul, Cengiz Yar Jr., John Locher, William Plowman, and Logan Mock-Bunting.

"You might notice there are seven winners," NPPA Short Grant Chair Alicia Wagner Calzada said. "The judges were initially instructed to pick six winners, but they felt very strongly that these seven entries were all worthy of the grants ... and so we went to the [NPPA] Executive Committee and asked for special permission to award seven grants this year."

The grants are awarded to support photojournalists who are creating compelling picture stories in their communities, and they are designed for funding projects small enough in scale that the bulk of the work can be accomplished in two weeks or less. The grants are made possible with funds from overseas reprographic rights organizations which give money to organizations like NPPA, through the Author’s Coalition of America, to benefit U.S.-based professional photographers.

The NPPA Short Grant judges this year were Melissa Lyttle, Torsten Kjellstrand, and Sung Park. 

"I am very grateful for the judges, who were all incredibly dedicated to this effort," Calzada said. "They all went above and beyond in the effort to select the grant winners ... Sung even participated in the judging from Ghana."

"In a year when a lot of the stories were focused on disaster porn of cities in ruins – like Detroit, Chicago and Gary – the stories that rose to the top were ones that had something extra, something beyond the obvious poverty and urban decay, something that counterbalanced that. That something was a glimmer of hope," Lyttle said on behalf of her fellow judges.

"As judges we appreciated those proposals that highlighted the humanity or those affected, like Diane Weiss' look via Instagram of her own backyard in Detroit that was refreshing and real, and her idea of giving back to that community with a public gallery or show, which she's hoping this grant will allow her to do." 

"The best of work quickly rose to the top," judge Kjellstrand said. "The problem was that there was more really good work than we could award grants to, and we agonized over the final selections with long discussions. In the end we were delighted and honored to be involved with so many sharp, dedicated photographers doing work with such breadth in both approach and subject matter."

[Read the judges' full comments online here.]

Black's winning proposal is to return to the small communities around his home in California's Central Valley to document the descendants of the Black Okies, African-American sharecroppers who migrated there half a century ago. While their white counterparts were chronicled in John Steinbeck's "Grapes Of Wrath" and in the photographs of Dorothea Lange, Black says the story of the Black Okies is largely untold. He plans to use the NPPA Short Grant to help produce a multimedia project that documents this chapter of American rural life.

Weiss will use the Grant to continue her documentary project on Brush Park, her Detroit neighborhood that is a mixture of boarded-up and restored Victorian homes that is bordered by an abandoned housing project, Woodward Ave., a theater district, and the newly-funded business district Midtown. Parts of the neighborhood thrive amidst Detroit's decay, and Weiss says she hopes to add understanding to what can be a too simplistic view of Detroit's complex economic story.

Saul has been covering Camden, NJ, and plans to use the Grant to "deepened my coverage of this troubled city." During 32 years as a staff photographer at the Philadelphia Inquirer she has seen Camden victimized by crooked politicians, seen the struggling public schools taken over by the state, and lose much of its tax base. The city has lost half of its police officers and a third of its firefighters. By 2011, Camden was statistically the poorest as well as the most dangerous city in America. Saul says her photography will especially focus on the children of Camden who have been hurt by the city's poverty and violence.

Yar applied for the Grant so that he could document underlying factors behind the rising homicide rate in Chicago, which he says has become an urban war zone. As America's third-largest city, Chicago has also become one of America's deadliest due to handgun deaths. To date, the 2013 homicide count is over 250 and in 2012 it was 506. Statistically it has become as dangerous as the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yar reports that predominantly the violence is black-on-black and almost 90 percent male, as well as centering mostly in the poverty-ridden Southside. He plans to photograph police, community activists, non-profit non-violence groups, the crimes as they happen, and the impact they have on the surrounding communities. 

Locher plans to use the Grant to document the lives of hundreds of Peruvian sheepherders who live and work alone, thousands of miles from home and families, in the Vogler Ranch area near Ely, Nevada. The photographer says the sheepherders work under extreme conditions with few amenities for less than minimum wage in jobs that most Americans won't do. They're here because of a 1952 visa program Congress created that allows agricultural workers into the U.S. if ranchers can't find enough American workers to meet the demand. The Peruvian sheepherders only see their families and friends every three years when they must leave the U.S. to renew their visa.

Plowman's Grant proposal is to document the ongoing economic decline of Gary, Indiana, a major city 25 miles south of Chicago that was created in 1906 to be the new home of U.S. Steel Corporation. When the boom days of American steel ended in the 1960s, Gary began its long, steep decline with increasing unemployment, declining population, increased violent crime, and the unwelcome title of "Murder Capital" thanks to the deadly violence that arrived with a growing narcotics trade. Currently more than a quarter of Gary's population lives under the poverty line, which includes nearly 40 percent who are under the age of 18. 

Mock-Bunting's Grant supports his work to document local organizations that provide End Of Life services to those who live below the poverty line and who have limited resources or access to traditional medical care. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that in 2009 only 5 percent of the nation's patients accounted for half of the U.S. spending on medical care for those receiving treatment for chronic and end-of-life illnesses. Organizations such as Hospice, and secondary needs like food and transportation and spiritual guidance, comfort, and companionship, are dealing with a growing elderly population of aging Baby Boomers along with those now added to the healthcare system by our nation's new healthcare laws. "Small acts of great love to do not often make headlines, but they are stories that can empower individuals and communities at large," Mock-Bunting said. "As such, they need to be told."