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"Winning changed everything" – meet the recipients of the Canon Female Photojournalist Grant

As entries open for the 21st annual Canon Female Photojournalist Grant, six diverse documentary photographers explain why the award was a pivotal moment in their careers.
Canon Female Photojournalist Grant recipients Anush Babajanyan and Laura Morton at the 2019 Visa pour l'Image festival in Perpignan, France.

Canon Female Photojournalist Grant recipient 2019 Anush Babajanyan (right) is congratulated by 2018 recipient Laura Morton at the 2019 Visa pour l'Image festival in Perpignan, France. © Mazen Saggar

The Canon Female Photojournalist Grant, established in the year 2000, will be awarded at the annual Visa pour l'Image festival in September. The €8,000 grant is given to an "outstanding photographer in recognition of her contribution to photojournalism," and is designed to either support the completion of an existing project or facilitate the making of a new one – which is then exhibited at the following year's festival.
For its recipients, the grant can prove to be life-changing, both in the vital funding that it provides, and also because of the platform it gives the photographer's work. The talents of several previous recipients have been recognised with some going on to receive World Press Photo awards and Pulitzer Prizes, while others have become brand ambassadors and started collaborating with leading international publications.

To celebrate the 20th year of the Grant, and to launch the call for entries for 2020, six former recipients reveal what the award meant to them, and offer advice for the next generation of participants.

"This Canon grant is priceless. It came at just the right time," says 2020 winner Sabiha Çimen. Sabiha won the grant for her ongoing series Hafiz: the Guardians of Qur'an, which documents the Muslim girls who attempt to memorise the whole Qur'an – a total of 30 books and 6,236 verses – in a tradition that has continued for almost 1,500 years. "I've been working on this project for three years, and I still needed support to finalise it," Sabiha explains.

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2020 Canon Female Photojournalist Grant recipient Sabiha Çimen.

Self-taught Istanbul-based documentary photographer Sabiha Çimen, pictured here, won the 2020 Canon Female Photojournalist Grant for her proposal to document the young Muslim girls who devote themselves to memorising the Qur'an. © Sabiha Çimen / Magnum Photos

A young girl dressed in traditional Muslim clothes, turned away from the camera. plays with pet birds in a yellow wire cage at a Qur'an school in Turkey.

A young Muslim girl plays with pet birds in this image from Sabiha Çimen's 2020 Canon Female Photojournalist Grant winning project Hafiz: the Guardians of Qur'an. © Sabiha Çimen / Magnum Photos

To celebrate the 21st year of the Grant, and to launch the call for entries for 2021, six former recipients reveal what the award meant to them, and offer advice for the next generation of participants.

Bringing visibility to vital stories

"There was no time to wonder whether I should enter or not, since I was told about it by my picture editor two days before the closing date," recalls Magali Delporte, the grant's first recipient, in 2001, with Unseen: Sport Without Sight, exploring the achievements of disabled athletes.

"I remember photocopying A3 prints at The Times and writing my application on the ferry on my way back from France," she says. "I submitted my entry on the closing day."

Winning the inaugural grant helped the French photojournalist fund five sports projects, and her work has since appeared in The Financial Times, Le Monde and Le Figaro.

"If you do a project off your own back, you should enter grants and awards," she says. "Not only does the grant bring financial help, it also helps to raise your visibility and get your stories published. After all, we don't want our work to stay hidden on a hard drive."
2001 Canon Female Photojournalist Grant recipient Magali Delporte.

Magali Delporte (2001)

Magali Delporte's career began in the late 90s and she won The Independent's Young Photographer of the Year award in 1999. She still works for The Independent and The Times, plus the French Ministry of National Education and Ministry of Culture.
Canon Female Photojournalist Grant recipient Catalina Martin-Chico at the 2017 Visa pour l'Image festival in Perpignan, France.

Franco-Spanish photojournalist Catalina Martin-Chico won the Canon Female Photojournalist Grant in 2017 for her work photographing Colombia's peacetime baby boom. © Mazen Saggar

Ninth time lucky

Unlike Magali, who won on her first attempt, Franco-Spanish photojournalist Catalina Martin-Chico proved that if at first you don't succeed, try and try again: she received the grant on her ninth attempt in 2017 with her images of a baby boom among former FARC insurgents in Colombia.

"The grant changed a lot of things," she says. "It brought huge visibility – not only for me, but for a story which many magazines didn't want to publish. When I started, I used my own money, which obviously only went so far. To tell the story post-conflict I had to go back. The grant gave me the chance to do that."

Catalina advises writing a "clear and accurate" proposal: "Feel how deeply you want to tell this story and you'll be convincing. You don't need to write a lot, but you need to explain why the story is important."
2017 Canon Female Photojournalist Grant recipient Catalina Martin-Chico.

Catalina Martin-Chico (2017)

Catalina Martin-Chico has been documenting life in Yemen and the Middle East since 2007. In 2011 she won the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Humanitarian Visa d'or Award for her coverage of the Yemeni Revolution.
She says becoming Canon Female Photojournalist of the year changed people's opinions of her. "It helped me gain respect within the industry. Women need that visibility, through showing strong work, and this is a chance to achieve that."

After returning to Colombia with her Canon EOS 5D Mark III and Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Catalina went on to win second prize in the Contemporary Issues category at the 2019 World Press Photo awards; one of her images was nominated for World Press Photo of the Year.

Personal and professional support

Claudia Guadarrama received the grant in 2005 for her long-term project Before the Limit, which documented migrants travelling through Central America and Mexico in the hope of reaching the US.

As well as the practical support that came from receiving the grant, she found the recognition particularly welcome.

"I was, and still am, profoundly grateful to have been awarded this grant," she says. "It was a great personal and professional support, especially as I face the challenge of working in a country where there is a great gender bias, a violent and sexist culture, and within an industry where women have to deal with gender inequality and the lack of opportunities."
2005 Canon Female Photojournalist Grant recipient Claudia Guadarrama.

Claudia Guadarrama (2005)

Based in Mexico City, documentary photographer Claudia Guadarrama typically focuses on political and social issues in Latin America and has seen her images appear in The New Yorker, TIME, Le Monde and The Guardian.
The support afforded by the grant is a theme which also resonates with the recipient of the 2019 award, Armenian photographer Anush Babajanyan, a member of VII Photo who shoots stories around the South Caucasus on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM, Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM and Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lenses. She encourages others to enter, even if you feel nervous about doing so.

"I am touched by the recognition, but the most important part has been the support," Anush says. "The freedom to continue working is all a storyteller really needs. It's an amazing opportunity and it does not take long to enter – put aside any doubts and send in your very best work."
2019 Canon Female Photojournalist Grant recipient Anush Babajanyan.

Anush Babajanyan (2019)

Anush Babajanyan focuses on social narratives concerning women, minorities, the environment and the aftermath of the conflict in South Caucasus. She works with UNICEF, and her photos have appeared in The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Three cheerleaders do high kicks in the middle of a street. Photo by Laura Morton.

An image from Laura Morton's University Avenue project, showing Stanford Cheerleading Squad rehearsing ahead of the 97th annual May Fete Parade. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM lens at 1/1250 sec, f/5.6 and ISO200. © Laura Morton

Four dancers in traditional Mexican dress perform in the middle of a street. Photo by Laura Morton.

Dancers perform at the 34th annual Cinco de Mayo Parade in neighbouring East Palo Alto. Despite the wealth gap between the neighbouring areas, Laura discovered there was much the residents had in common. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM lens at 1/1000 sec, f/5.6 and ISO160. © Laura Morton

A pivotal moment

Unlike many recipients of the grant, American documentary photographer and 2018 winner Laura Morton used the grant to pursue a new story: University Avenue explored two neighbouring communities in California's Bay Area separated by a stark wealth gap.

"I'd had the idea for a while, but I knew it was a complicated project that would take a long time," says Laura, who shot much of University Avenue on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM lens. "The grant gave me the financial freedom to carve out that time. Time to work is a gift for a documentary photographer, and a grant allows for deeper and more subtle stories to develop.

"When it comes to entering, decide what's unique about your voice and story. This is a tough business, but having unique ideas goes a long way."
2018 Canon Female Photojournalist Grant recipient Laura Morton. Photo by Didier Cameau.

Laura Morton (2018)

Documentary photographer Laura Morton, based in San Francisco, focuses on economics and wealth. Her images have appeared in publications including National Geographic, Marie Claire, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
For Axelle de Russé, being selected as Canon Female Photojournalist in 2007 for her photo story on concubines in China proved to be a pivotal moment in her career.

"Receiving the grant was, for me, a source of enormous pressure, but so instructive," she says. "It was the trigger, the founding moment of my career. Every story I produce today is based on the steps and initiatives I took at that time. It taught me how to build a story.

"I'll always view this grant as special: it carried me forward and pushed me to continue; it gave me the confidence to become the photographer I am today."
2007 Canon Female Photojournalist Grant recipient Axelle de Russé. Photo by Leila Minano.

Axelle de Russé (2007)

Axelle de Russé is a French freelance photojournalist. In 2014, she followed the daily lives of sexual violence victims in the French army, and since 2016 has been documenting the consequences of global warming in the Arctic.

And the recipients were...

2020 Sabiha Çimen

2019 Anush Babajanyan

2018 Laura Morton

2017 Catalina Martin-Chico

2016 Darcy Padilla

2015 Anastasia Rudenko

2014 Viviane Dalles

2013 Mary F Calvert

2012 Sarah Caron

2011 Ilvy Njiokiktjien

2010 Martina Bacigalupo

2009 Justyna Mielnikiewicz

2008 Brenda Ann Kenneally

2007 Axelle de Russé

2006 Véronique de Viguerie

2005 Claudia Guadarrama

2004 Kristen Ashburn

2003 Ami Vitale

2002 Sophia Evans

2001 Magali Delporte

Автор Natalie Denton


The 2021 Canon Female Photojournalist Grant is open to female photojournalists from anywhere in the world, covering any social, economic, political or cultural subject. Entry is free and photo essays can be submitted from 15 March to 17 May 2021.

Keep up to date with the latest news about Visa pour l'Image on our event page.

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