MOVING THE MESSAGE TO A NEXT LEVEL

The MIAP Fellowship 2016 has been a unique opportunity for a selection of talented Dutch photographers to elaborate on their self-initiated projects. Six candidates were offered to discuss their socially concerned visual stories with experts arriving from a variety of disciplines. The pristine location made for a one-of-a-kind meeting place to bridge creative thought and artistic management.

Six project ideas were shortlisted from over sixty applications that all had a certain quality and were thus seriously considered. The following emerging photographers from The Netherlands were eventually invited to develop and fine-tune their initial proposals:

Annette Behrens (Soy); Cynthia Boll (Sinking Cities); Jan Dirk van der Burg (Boss); Jan Hoek (New Masai II), Ananda van der Pluijm (Invisible Youth); and Nadine Stijns (National Identity of Somaliland).

The fundamental idea behind the MIAP Fellowship is to facilitate a refreshing form of education that allows for a cross-pollination of disciplines. Loenen aan de Vecht, situated less than 30 kilometres away from Amsterdam, has proven to be the perfect secluded arena for an intense 3-day in-depth and intense exchange of ideas by people who otherwise might never have encountered each other.

Cynthia Boll, one of the participating photographers: “You are often required to explain your project in a concise way. That is something that I struggle with, but the MIAP Fellowship has certainly helped me a lot in getting there eventually.”

Evelien Kunst, responsible for the programme of the MIAP Fellowship, has developed a model which functions as the ‘cement’ between the various meetings. Most significantly, the fundamental idea underneath is that the candidates are invited to move beyond the artistic aspects of their projects. This focus on the practical feasibility of the initial ideas is very much in line with what is expected of contemporary photographers nowadays.

Visual artists can’t exclusively focus on the content of their projects, as they are also expected to function as cultural entrepreneurs. This means (among other things) that socially engaged photographers have to effectively articulate their position and to motivate their actions accordingly. The fellowship therefore started with a ‘Socratic’ conversation concentrated on the philosophical problem: When Do I Have Impact? By consequently asking critical questions, moderator Gijs Reudink urges the photographers to arrive at the point in which they find themselves confronted with the expectations that come with the self- initiated projects; to mirror their ambitions. Reudink: “The ultimate result of a Socratic conversation is ‘aporia’, which literally means: to stimulate doubt. I think we succeeded in that task today.”

“Authors (including visual artists) have a certain responsibility when it comes to the promotion of their content,” says Paolo Woods. Together with Gabriele Galimberti he has worked on the photographic translation of the issue of ‘tax havens’. As Woods explains in his powerful presentation (he proofs to be a very talented public speaker), their long-term project has been a road full of obstacles but eventually resulted in the publication of ‘The Heavens’. The book might not be considered inexpensive but it so complete in its content and so convincing in its message that it is value for money. The presentation of Woods has raised the awareness among the participants of the MIAP fellowship to consider how a strategy, or perhaps even a chain of strategies, could support the articulation of their projects – even in the stage of being ‘works in progress’.

This is very much in line with what Harald Dunnink, graphic designer and co-founder of De Correspondent, mentioned earlier that day: “Entrepreneurship is absolutely required in order to guarantee a certain creative freedom.” For Dunnink, communication via online media outlets needs to be ‘full cycle’. Additionally, the message should be delivered in a convincing yet calm manner. This is also very much a matter of establishing a sustainable collaboration between an author and a graphic designer in an early stage of a project. More in general, as Dunnink states: “A mature form of cultural entrepreneurship also includes clear and mutual agreements with potential partners.”

The MIAP Fellowship is mainly a training ground to prepare a fine selection of socially engaged photographers to unfold their plans to each other and the MIAP Foundation at a later stage. For only then will be decided on the details of the financial support. Three experts in delivering commercial ‘elevator pitches’ are therefore invited on the second day of the fellowship to prepare the photographers for this important task. Martijn Baarda, a ‘branding architect’, and one of the ‘pitch’-trainers, confronts the candidates with the following dilemma: “How can you accustom a personal passion towards the subject of investigation to a certain market value?”

The ‘pitch’-training thus stresses on a clear and effective articulation of both emotional and social relevance in regards to addressing a self-initiated photographic project.

One-on-one meetings between the photographers and people that have a specific expertise in the field of their interest is another important aspect of the MIAP Fellowship. It allows the candidates to move outside their common realm and to really discuss in detail the issues that they struggle with concerning the execution of their project. The 3-day fellowship allows for a two-way benefit, as the experts can be forceful in their convincement to think ‘outside of the box’ and meanwhile give effective support in doing so due to their specialized know-how.This often leads to surprising angles on the matter at stake and also to very practical feedback.

Jan Hoek, visual artist, on his learning experience in the MIAP Fellowship: “Pitching your ideas for financial support is still often considered a dirty job by many visual artists. But this fellowship has made me aware of the absolute necessity to implement a business model within a project proposal and it comforts me to realize that it doesn’t have to affect your artistic integrity.”

Most of the participating photographers – ranging from visual artists to photojournalists – were not familiar with each other’s work until they participated in this fellowship. More in general, MIAP has introduced them to people that they might not acquaint with in their everyday practice, and to social aspects that they would otherwise not be so much involved with. Ananda van der Pluijm: “I seem to struggle with thinking in large and abstract concepts, certainly in the stage in which my project is in, as I haven’t yet found the ultimate form of presentation. Getting feedback on these aspects has been really helpful, if only to realize there is still a lot to consider.”

These considerations might also apply to the search for alternative means in order to stage socially engaged visual stories. “Instagram is the perfect platform to make people gather around a niche subject,” says Molly Benn, who gave a presentation during the MIAP Fellowship on behalf of Instagram. After hearing about the kind of projects these photographers are currently working on she got even more convinced of the mutual benefit. Molly Benn:  Instagram could be an apt tool of communicating your project, as any micro-interest will have its audience.”

The candidates also get to meet professionals in the field of marketing, specialized in the potential to communicate the same story to several kinds of audiences. This strategy requires multiple approaches to the same theme. Mark Woerde (founder at Lemz): “The ideal to make the world a better place is one thing, and marketing strategies could be a very helpful in doing so, but you also have to take into account that reality is extremely ephemeral. Creating awareness is one thing but the ultimate challenge is to come up with an effective campaign that actually leads to solving the problem that you want to advertise. ”

Thomas Vroege (VEX), specialized in multi-platform presentations: “The role of a visual artist today has to be in delivering creative ideas that move beyond a more mainstream knowledge or conception that we already have of the issue at stake. The MIAP Fellowship seems to be the perfect ‘playground’ to test such an approach.”

Overall, the intense three day gathering, in pleasantly tranquil circumstances and with plenty opportunity for informal meetings has proven to be the best possible approach to the set goals of the MIAP Foundation. This is confirmed when the candidates present their projects to a ‘live’ audience of 45 guests with various expertises and arriving from all kinds of professional realms. This is important, as there is plenty of potential – mutual interest that deserves further investigation.

The MIAP Fellowship is and effective platform that helps to bridge often too divided worlds. It has stimulated fruitful encounters between professional visual storytellers and people with an expertise in the topics that they wish to tackle, but also with know-how on how develop effective strategies to eventually arrive at successful end results. This approach to the visualization of projects with a socially engaged angle will be all the more relevant in the near future as cultural entrepeneurship is a key element in the career of contemporary photographers.