Siskind Fellowship: Foundation Offering Prestigious Awards for Your Lens Based Photography Practice

Founded by Aaron Siskind, influential photographic artist and IIT Institute of Design faculty member, the Aaron Siskind Foundation provides the annual Siskind Fellowship to artists working in photography and related photo based media. According to the website:

Siskind directed that his estate become a resource that would support contemporary photography and reward and encourage excellence in its practitioners. Since his death in 1991, the Aaron Siskind Foundation has been one of the few American organizations providing cash grants to individual photographic artists on a yearly basis. The Individual Photographer’s Fellowship (IPF) review panel examines the work of upwards of 1,000 applicants each year, awarding a varying number of grants in amounts of up to $10,000.

Siskind Fellowship Overview

Given the Siskind Foundation limits the scope of their grants to artists who self define their practice in terms of medium specificity, these Fellowships represent a fantastic opportunity to photographers and lens based media practitioners because the narrow scope limits the number of potential applicants, thereby raising the likelihood of winning a grant.

The Siskind Fellowship is a generous grant for Photographers
© Aaron Siskind Foundation

If you are an artist working primarily in photography, you owe it to yourself to apply for the Siskind Foundation Individual Photographer’s Fellowship because you will be competing only against other photographers, rather than with grants like Artadia or Creative Capital, where you will have to distinguish your work against the entire breadth of artistic practice throughout the world today (that’s a tall order!).

Siskind Fellowship Grant Application Details

The application process is simple enough, with applicants submitted work via the Foundation’s Slideroom portal. The main encumbrance here is the clunky interface of Slideroom’s outdated media manager. As I’m sure most readers have experienced, Slideroom’s backend is borderline intolerable. The process of simply adding captions to your images is so overwrought they should really redesign the system from the ground up with an eye toward saving busy artists time. On the plus side, once you set up a Slideroom profile and labor through the process of adding a full portfolio, you can apply to additional calls with the same set of images.

The Fellowships application itself requires 10 images of recent work representative of your practice, an artist statement up to 250 words, and a resume/cv up to 500 words. With the exception of bad Slideroom design, the overall time commitment to complete the Siskind Foundation Fellowship is much shorter then the majority of old guard institutions like Creative Capital and The Guggenheim Fellowship. Regards to the Siskind Foundation for making a more streamlined process. It really stands out in terms of grant applications and is more inline with The Harpo Foundation and The Hopper Prize.

If you’re busy (who isn’t?) and qualify based on medium specificity, definitely apply for one of these Fellowships before sinking months of irrecoverable time into admin heavy applications like the Guggenheim Fellowship, or the Pollock Krasner Grant that requires tax documents, or the especially pretentious “letters of inquiry” barrier to application favored by Creative Capital.

Siskind Fellowship Winners & Grant Jurors

As with any grant, you should always research past Fellowship recipients to make sure your work stands a fair chance of receiving a Grant. Some notable Siskind Foundation Grant winners include:

Historically, Fellowship winners work in very traditional methods, with a central theme of a number of winning portfolios being photo-journalistic style, documentary approach to photography. This is likely a result of the Foundation’s tiered approach to judging, where applications are first screened by a set of judges (such as former/current photo editors Elisabeth Bondi and Natalie Matutschovsky, to name a few). This tends to skew winners into the photo-journalism realm, so studio based photographers should keep that in mind before submitting an application.

Unfortunately, the Aaron Siskind Foundation does not advertise their judges until after grant winners are announced, so you don’t have the opportunity to research their specific interests prior to submitting an application. As such, you should spend even more time unpacking previously winner’s portfolios to gain insight into how to go about putting together a winning submission.

Pros

  • Prestigious Fellowships limited to Lens Based Art
  • Generous awards up to $10,000
  • Simple application
  • Judges often have backgrounds in journalism which tends to reward traditional, documentary photographers over more experimental practices

Cons

  • While medium specificity is great for photographers, artists working with photography in studio based or experimental lens based practices seem to have less of a chance when reviewing past winners
  • Slideroom application portal is poorly designed

Connect with the Siskind Foundation

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