Writing proposals/descriptions/budgets for a photography project can be a drag. I am not sure I can teach a lot, but I can for sure share what I learned by working on “Structurally recyclable, basically disposable“. Even though I had some experience writing funding requests and project descriptions thanks to my prior job in the human rights NGO sector, I found myself a little lost at the beginning.
Hopefully through this “project planner” series, I can be of help (albeit small) to anyone who is frantically researching ways to get started.
First things first
Let’s first define what we’re talking about. You had an idea for an artistic project (mainly expressed through photography, in my case) and you think it could be interesting for a lot of people. However, you need funding to carry it out: to gather the supplies (films, props, etc), to pay for the rent (in case you’re renting a venue), to cover your own honorary and that of other people who might be working with you, to pay for electricity, postage costs, trips (if that is part of your project), printing costs (think of brochures, flyers, posters), advertisement, etc..
If you are working analog, you might need to get the films developed, processed and you will eventually have to pay to get the prints. If you are doing all of the above by yourself, you will need to have some sort of honorary for all these activities.
In the best case scenario, you will get all the funding you need to cover the costs and your honoraries. Otherwise, you will have to think on where to cut.
Now, depending on the kind of project you are working on, you will have to seek different types of funding options (but this is not the point of this post). However, regardless of the type of funding institution you are going to, you will need to provide a project description, a budget and a time plan. Some institutions provide you with a relatively strict list of documents you need to provide and some even post a questionnaire you have to fill out.
However, a plan and a project description are necessary, at least as a starting point that can be adapted to each potential donor. Also, you will need a plan for yourself, to keep track of your progress and to adjust should anything go wrong.
The first thing to say is that writing a project description can be perceived as a distraction, as a waste of time, as an activity that does not allow you to fully focus on the artistic development of the project. At least, this is how I often see it.
However, I found that writing things down in the form of a structured text forced me to think things through, to see the loopholes in the concept, where possible problems could arise and eventually to come up with answers to these issues. It also helped me develop the concept, and I went back to the project description as I came up with a better way (or shorter way) of formulating things.
A project description is a text that explains your vision, your objectives and the means that you will be using to achieve them. All of this has to be restricted somewhat in time: a project starts and ends within a foreseeable period of time. This means that you will need to think ahead and give yourself a minute to figure out how long you want to commit yourself to this particular project.
Your own willingness to commit has to be calculated in the light of the time that it will take for the different phases to be complete. You will take a certain period of time to do the shootings, to process the images, to exhibit your work and none of these phases should be rushed. These phases depend on the kind of project you are woking on: do you need to travel to a particular place to do the shootings? If yes, how long are you planning to stay? Are you shooting in places for which you need a permit? How long does it take to obtain it? Do you need to find subjects? if yes, how many and how much time will it take for you to photograph them? do you have to travel to them? How long will it take you to process your images? How long will it take you to get your prints? Do you already have a trusted lab that does your printing or should you maybe start testing different places? How long do you plan on exhibiting your work? How many exhibitions are you planning? Have you already a specific place in mind? Do they have a long waiting period?
On top of all this, add a margin of maneuver to allow for problems and delays (even if you think you won’t, you will need it, believe me).
The questions above are only an indicator of the type of things you will need to take into account, but each specific project has its own needs.
This is only the first phase: brainstorming and jotting down things you will need to know. Hopefully with the next posts, I will be able to share what I learned in the different phases of the project.