The 20th Canon Female Photojournalist Grant 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.
"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."
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."
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.
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."
The support afforded by the grant is a theme which also resonates with the most recent recipient, 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."
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."
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."
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
The 2020 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 8 March to 31 May 2020.
Keep up to date with the latest news about Visa pour l'Image on our event page.