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Redefining the fundraising landscape; Crowd Funding

Green sea turtle at surface for breath. Chelonia mydas. Maui, Hawaii, USA.

In a new fundraising landscape, many photographers are turning towards a new wave of fundraising to get backing for their projects,  crowd funding.  Websites such as Emphas.is and Kickstarter provide a platform for creatives.   Conservation Photographer Neil Ever Osborne is one such creative who is exploring crowd funding.  He is working with Emphas.is to fund his latest project, Return of the Black Turtle.

Tina Ahrens, the COO of Emphas.is, took the time to answer a few of our questions about this new fundraising model.

Q: Tell me a bit about the genesis of Emphas.is.

Emphas.is was launched in March 2011. We had been working on the concept for a year already prior to the launch. It had become pretty clear to us that the old media institutions were not going to recover any time soon if at all and that the solution of how to continue to produce in-depth photojournalism had to be found elsewhere.

For us at Emphas.is the logical step was to turn directly to the public to ask what they want to see reported, and instead of paying for a magazine with a fixed content, the audience would pay a small contribution towards realizing the production of a feature they would be interested in. So in a sense we are just cutting out the middlemen, the gatekeepers of our profession when it comes to the production of content.

When you look at crowd funding in other areas, it is clear that people are willing to pay for something they value. We asked ourselves what is the value inherent in photojournalism? We are not asking for donation or charity, we are offering the viewer something in return. We firmly believe that people are willing to pay for an experience, for a unique opportunity to join a creation process, to become insiders to the profession and follow the journeys photographers make to bring back their stories, and so far we have succeeded putting this theory into practice.

Researchers from the Karen Beasley Rehabilitation Center smooth the surface of a loggerhead sea turtle while holding the large male in a tub. Caretta caretta. Topsail Island, North Carolina, USA.

Q: In this changing communications landscape, what are the advantages to crowd funding?

Crowd funding a project allows the photographer complete creative freedom and control over his project, which most don’t have when working for media organizations. It offers the photographer the chance to use his position as the author to tell the story him-/herself and not have an outsider – a magazine or journalist – put the work into a different context.

Moreover, it offers the photographer the opportunity to build a following of people who understand and like his/her work and who can be called upon for future projects. It is our goal is to connect photojournalists with their audience and to create an alternative source of funding for in-depth visual journalism.

Q: Do projects featured on crowd funding platforms reach a different audience than might usually fund the project?

We are encouraging each photojournalist who is doing a crowd funding campaign to reach out to a variety of different networks, his own, the photo community, the amateur market and the special interest groups who might be susceptible to the subject matter the photographer is addressing in his pitch. So this together makes a dynamic mix and reaches some people who might not usually consume or pay for photojournalism.

Green sea turtle resting on plastic bottle while returning to sea after nesting.

Q: What are the odds of success? What percentage of projects reach their fundraising goal?

One in two projects reach their funding goals. The success of a story is usually closely tied to how well a photographer did his campaign. Crowd funding is a lot of work and people need to be ready to reach out to and mobilize different networks.

A 50% success rate is a fairly good one compared to the likelihood of landing a big photography grant where chances often vary from 0.4-6%.

Q: How can you get involved with Emphas.is?

We are soon launching the open submission process on Emphas.is where any professional photographer can submit a project pitch ,which will then be reviewed by three members of our review board. The reviewers will judge the validity of a project and its budget with a set list of criteria which can be seen here.

About Tina

Tina Ahrens is the COO of Emphas.is. She is an independent photo editor and photography consultant. Previously, she has worked for German GEO magazine as the senior photo editor in its correspondent office in New York. Tina is a Board Member for National Geographic’s “All Roads” Photography Program and has been a workshop teacher for The World Press Photo Foundation, and juror for Photo Espana and Visa pour l’image.

About Neil Ever Osborne’s Project: Return of the Black Turtle

*content below from Emphas.is

J. Nichols rescues a green sea turtle from a fishing net.

When Dr. Wallace “J.” Nichols presented his doctoral proposal to study the biology and conservation of sea turtles in northwestern Mexico, his committee told him it was a waste of time. They advised him to skip over the Black Turtles, which had been hunted to the brink of extinction. “They said it was too late,” Nichols recalls. “One funder later admitted to me that his foundation considered the grant he gave us the same as ‘burning money’ — a lost cause.”

Today, nearly 20 years later, the Black Turtle is a rare bright spot in the conservation landscape. Efforts continue and much work lies ahead, but for now the Black Turtle has sidestepped extinction, due in large part to the tight-knit group of local and international stakeholders that J. helped bring together through Grupo Tortuguero.

By land, by sea, and by air, Return of the Black Turtle will retrace J.’s efforts to build Grupo Tortuguero. With the initial help of a handful of pioneering fisherman, J. and his team have been able to protect the turtles from every angle, growing an expansive network by engaging researchers, government agents, ex-convicts, drag racers, as well as the Seri Indians of coastal Sonora, for whom sea turtles have long held important nutritional, utilitarian, and cultural value.

Through images, words, and video, Emphas.is backers will join J. and I as we travel the seas and walk the beaches with former poachers and talk with coastal community members who still eat turtle meat, although much less often. We will survey sea turtle foraging areas and trace the turtles’ migration from Baja to their nesting grounds in Michoacan. Much of the story will unfold as we immerse ourselves in the lives of the local families whose trust and open minds helped J. get his first toe-holds on the project.

Photographer + Scientist = Winning Conservation Team

The views expressed in this guest blog post are those of the International League of Conservation Photographers and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Readers are welcome to exchange ideas or comments, but National Geographic reserves the right to edit or delete abusive or objectionable content.

Comments

  1. Michael T. Lawrence
    San Francisco
    October 11, 2011, 10:42 pm

    Beautiful article – thanks for highlighting this trend. I had supported a couple of friends on http://RocketHub.com and didn’t even know that what I was doing was crowdfunding.

  2. SEEtheWILD.org
    October 10, 2011, 11:42 pm

    Nichols has also decided to crowd-source his salary to remain an independent marine biologist. Cool experiment! 100BlueAngels.org