Project planner series: The project description

Made with: Rollei Crossbird 35mm film ISO 200

A project description needs not be very long. As a matter of fact, it should probably be 3-4 pages maximum. However, as you apply to different funding institutions, you might be given a different page limit. The point of this post is not the project description that you will send out, rather the project description that you will write for yourself and that you will then adapt when applying. The sections might be in a different order in the official document or you might need to merge them if you are looking for brevity or if you have limited space. I have chosen to divide my project description in the following sections only to help you visualize the different phases of the project, but it does not need to be taken “à la lettre”.

The background
Every project starts from something. How did you come to this idea? Why are you interested in this topic? The answers can vary: it could come from personal experience, maybe you want to photograph a phenomenon that is happening in your community and that you want other people to see. Maybe it’s a personal research. You don’t need to explain everything down to the level of molecular science, but the people who will be reading your description will be interested in knowing how you came to this particular topic. As you write it down, keep in mind that in the end you might need to shorten this section of your project description or merge with the “Progress” section (see below).

The issue
Every project starts with research on the topic. As you delve into it, you might read a lot about it. All this knowledge has shaped your take on the issue. There will be a section in your project description about the generalities where you basically introduce the topic and make general considerations on it. This section helps you establish why the focus of your project can be of interest for the general public. Your public can be a limited one, a specialized one, but you have a public nonetheless.

The aim
This is a very difficult section. After all, photography itself has a social “function” and it creates a dialogue. But you will need to address your objectives in a way that makes sense for someone to help you realize your project. You probably think that the topic needs to be known by the public, that there needs to be a dialogue on this. It might not be too original, but it’s often what you will write. If the topic has been already addressed many times before, you will need to have a particular angle on it. If you are the first to talk about it, than it might be easier to get funding (and attention).
This section might not be there (or it might have a different “flavor”) if you are applying for an art grant from an art institution or university, as they will probably evaluate your artistic skills and the originality of the research. Maybe in that case, what makes your project special is the technique or materials you are using.

Means/Methods
If you are using photographs in this project than photography is your means to achieve your ends. Explain how exactly you will proceed, how many photographs you will take and where, with how many people for how long. Everything that has to do with the process itself applies. What will happen at the end? An exhibition? A book? You need to think this through and be as specific and detailed as possible.
This section will also include your timeline: each phase of your project will be restricted within a period of time and each phase needs to be identified.
How much time do you need for your project preparation? Let’s say you need two months to complete your research. Then there is the actual photographing (depending on your project, you might take from two weeks to a year ), followed by processing and editing (two-three weeks?). Then you will be exhibiting your work (for how long?). The final phase is when you compare your initial budget to your actual expenses and send everything in.

As you list these things, you will start recognizing where you need to act first:
– get in contact with galleries/venues,
– start looking for your subjects or investigate ways to find them (if this applies),
– start inquiring about prices for traveling/hotels (if applicable)
– start inquiring about prices for processing, printing, etc
You can’t commit to spending any money yet (as you can only do that when approved for funding), but you will need to be prepared to know how much money you will need in order to submit your budget with your application.

In preparation for that, reserve a specific folder (both “real” and in your computer) where you will file everything project-related and make sure you keep EVERY document that has to do with it. Make to-do lists and process sheets to keep track of the people you need to contact, the people you already contacted and are waiting a response from, and so on.
Finally, get someone whose judgment you can trust to read your document and see if he/she finds it clear and readable. It will help you get some initial feedback.

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