Guggenheim Fellowship Award Tips For Contemporary Fine Art Photography, Artists

Several Tips to Help Photographers And Artists Who Are Applying For A Guggenheim Fellowship Award 

If you are a contemporary fine art photographer (or filmmaker, painter, writer or scholar), the first few weeks of September means applying for a Guggenheim Fellowship award.  The deadline is usually around the second week of September.

It’s one of the last of the “old-school” grants and one of the few left for individuals in a creative field, including photographers.  Its also one of the few anywhere that requires actual prints to be included as the work sample in the application, which I think is an excellent component–unlike most other awards where images are projected on a digital slide projector or on a screen.

Winning the Guggenheim Fellowship for contemporary fine art photographers used to be one of the highest honors, and still is extremely important.  Given the rise of crowd sourcing sites such as Kickstarter, however, getting a Guggenheim award is not what is once was.

The application process itself is arduous, as it should be: after all, at stake is $30,000 or more, depending on the year.  Usually, about 180 fellowships are awarded and I think about 4,000 apply in total.

It requires several things that make it difficult for a fine art photographer: four recommendations; actual prints; a written project plan; high competition.

Guggenheim Fellowship Recommendations

For the recommendations, I’ve been told its best to get a mixture of people that know you well but they should mostly be teachers who have won it before or curators.  I think–this is just my thought–that gallerists, dealers and collectors are less likely to be appreciated.  Very well known people might help, but they must know you well to give you a good recommendation.  Its possible that the recommendations only come into play when there is a close tie between two photographers.

Guggenheim Fellowship Work Sample for Photography

As for the body of work, it should be tight, well organized and cohesive.  In other words, your basic portfolio–again, just my thoughts.

Guggenheim Fellowship Proposal

The proposal I think should be brief at about one page, and is very important.  Surprisingly, very few Guggenheim Fellowship fine art photographer’s applications are available online anywhere, except for Robert Frank’s and maybe one other.  There are different approaches and styles to take when writing any grant proposal, but generally I think they should be jargon-free and easily readable.  State your plan clearly but perhaps make it personal in some way.

Guggenheim Fellowship Competition in Photography

As far as I can tell, there are about 300 to 400 photographers that apply each year, and only about five to seven or eight are awarded.  Getting into the Yale MFA Photography program is easier.

Guggenheim Fellowship Judges

Know one really knows who the judges are, and there seem to be a few for each category, such as photography.  Some seem to have an idea about who might be members of the committee, and looking at who’s won the awards over the years, there seems to have been a shift.

Recent Trends in Guggenheim Fellowship Photography Awards

Again, this is just my opinion, but there seems to have been a change in the type of photographers awarded grants over the last five years or so.  There seems to be an introduction of a documentary element which seems to be new, and the awards seem to be from more geographic regions.  There seems to be a mix of a few very established photographers with some up and coming artists, as well as a few very unknowns.

Should you apply and is it worth it?  Winning a Guggenheim Fellowship is one of the most prestigious awards for a fine art contemporary photographer, but you really must be ready and be a serious, working artist, in my opinion.