Monday, September 21, 2009

Film Grant - Too Much Chocolate + Kodak

Jake Stangel, founder of Too Much Chocolate, which is an excellent site geared to the emerging photographer, was kind enough to answer my questions regarding a new grant he has arranged with Kodak to provide 10 photographers with film of their choosing to complete a project.

The judging panel for the film grant will consist of:

- Marcel Saba, Director of Redux Pictures
- Clinton Cargill, Associate Picture Editor of the New York Times Magazine
- Conor Risch, Features Editor of PDN
- Andy Adams, Editor / Publisher of Flak Photo
- Alison Morley, Chair of ICP’s Documentary Photography and Photojournalism Program
- Audrey Jonckheer, Director of Worldwide Pro Photographer Relations at Kodak
- Jake Stangel, Founder / Editor of too much chocolate

Best of all, the entry fee is just $10!

JWB: How did this grant come about? Who contacted who first and why a fim grant in the age of the digital revolution that's been so embraced by the emerging photographers TMC caters to?

JS: I got the idea of doing a film grant a couple months ago to address two things: my desire to grow the site in a constructive and helpful way for 'emerging photographers', and also my own frustration in not being able to shoot project ideas- no matter how big or small- with the frequency I'd wished to. Inspiration wasn't the issue, I just couldn't afford much film, which is predominately what I shoot. I knew there were plenty of people out there just like myself, and I wanted to leverage the site to address the issue.

So I got in touch with Kodak, and gave them the proposal that you pretty much see today. The site has grown alot since I started it in December, and has since grown beyond this kind of small, young, film-shooting group of photographers it began with, for the better. But I presented it to Kodak as a way to really connect with a predominately young group of loyal film shooters... many of whom shoot Portra almost exclusively because it's such a great film (and I'm not paid to say that).

We might be swept up in an 'age of digital' but film is not dead nor should it be dismissed. Plus, it's my own opinion that the younger photographers, like many readers of the site, are the ones wholeheartedly embracing or even sometimes reverting to film. Very few of the rotating gallerists, for example, shoot digitally.

I try not to get engrossed in the good ol' film vs. digital thing; there are clearly parties who work best/stand behind their respective medium. And that's great. But I will say this about film: it's a technology that's been refined for over a century and is this totally amazing, very faithful, colorful, charismatic way of preserving exactly what comes through your lens. It's a 1:1 chemical reaction- what comes through the lens is exactly what's etched into the emulsion (figuratively), as opposed to a sensor/computer doing its best to capture the light hitting it. That's a big reason why I shoot it. Plus, there are all sorts of non-technical reasons for shooting film- a preference for the style you shoot film with (vs. checking the LCD after every shot), the commitment to each frame that you can't get back, the lack of a "safety net", the color profiles... I could go on and on.

JWB: I see you have some interesting names on the judging panel. How did that come about?

JS: I had wanted to get a diverse group of judges that each represent a certain facet of the photo world, from reps to professors/teachers to curators. Aside from looking for judges whose photographic aesthetic and vast industry/portfolio knowledge I really respect, I approached people I had good existing relationships with already- Marcel, Clinton, Conor, and Andy. Of course, Audrey and I have been working on this grant from the beginning and it was a given that she would on the panel. Alison, who is the chair of ICP's documentary photography and photojournalism program, actually came on recommendation from two judges; I was quite happy to welcome a chair of a renowned photography institution/school/gallery.

JWB: So how would you say TMC is going thus far? Anything new planned going forward that you can tell us about?

JS: Great question. Well first, I never would have imagined that I'd have a film grant in place with a company like Kodak six months ago. The site started as a little experiment back in December, with a goal to focus on "how to I transition into a career as a professional photographer". But I quickly recognized all these opportunities to leverage the site for the benefit of an entire (very targeted) photo community. I'm just very focused and excited about the community potential of things- be it the rotating galleries or the open invitation for readers to contribute to the site/interview photographers they really love, like Alec Soth or Dan Winters (that interview is in progress). I like how all this content is created from within, with many back-and-forths from several parties, as opposed to one single person directing information outwards.

It wouldn't be far from the truth to say I'm developing the site one month at a time at this point. I couldn't do much in the way of progression this summer since I was on that bike trip (rode cross-country this summer over three months), which cut into my time to develop the site more, do more interviews, etc. But now that the trip is done, and I've been thinking pretty critically about all of these massive opportunities on the web for our little social group, in terms of connectivity, original content, site leverage, partnerships, and blogs' transition from single-source to perhaps a mini-magazine staff/output. Lots of ideas... (but for the record I'm a photographer first, site developer second!).

As for new plans... I'd like to try to help readers break through the door of magazines/agencies and into the offices of the people that matter. I've got something in the works, an assignment/contest of sorts, in partnership with a magazine, where a 'simulated' assignment is given out to readers (something like "shoot a portrait of a stranger"), top 15 submissions are put in a hyped-up web gallery for viewing by all, and the best-of/single winner then gets shoot an actual assignment for the magazine. The simulation of photographing a stranger makes perfect sense, in this case, because when shooting a subject on assignment, you're pretty much doing that anyway.

Thanks, Jake!

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