Rob Hornstra and Arnold van Bruggen: “The Sochi Project”
“Focus on quality. There are too many people trying to do everything at the same time. Don’t underestimate what you can achieve either, just set out to make the best project ever.” Rob Hornstra in an interview with Ideas Tap
All photographers professionally dealing with image-making know this problem: You have an amazing idea, but you lack the necessary funds to realize it.
Dutch photographer Rob Hornstra must have felt exactly that way in 2009. He wanted to carry out an in-depth investigation of the area around the Russian holiday destination Sochi on the shores of the Black Sea that had been chosen to be the host of the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Why? In the introduction of the book “The Sochi Project: An Atlas of War and Tourism in the Caucasus” (2013), Hornstra explains his motivation:
“Winter Olympics in a subtropical resort. Surrounded by conflict zones. The most expensive Games ever. This is the idea being realised in Sochi. In a mere six years, an entire “world-class” sporting spectacle has been built from scratch.”
In this article I’d like to talk about how Hornstra and his colleague Arnold van Bruggen turned the “Sochi Project” which was originally planned as an “online project with a large publication” into a long scale project which took up nearly six years of work.
With the Olympic Winter Games around the corner, “The Sochi Project” is currently widely exhibited and can be seen – among others – in the gallery “Fotohof” in Salzburg, Austria from January 31st to March 22nd, 2014. Hornstra’s and van Burggen’s project is an excellent example for brilliant investigative (photo-)journalism. It deserves to be studied by everyone who wants to undertake a similar approach to do time-consuming slow investigative journalism as it provides valuable advice:
- Keep it simple: As Hornstra stated in the quote cited at the beginning of this article. It’s important to focus – don’t try to include everything in your project. Always stay focussed. Writing your thoughts down beforehand or telling your idea to a friend or colleague is a good way to sharpen your project. Are you able to communicate your idea to others so that they understand what you have in mind? To be able to put it in a nutshell is of big help. You need a roadmap. That doens’t mean that you can’t take detours along the way, but you should always know where you are headed.
- Teamwork: Nobody can do it all. The bigger the project, the better to look for partners that can contribute skills you might not possess. In this case photographer Hornstra teamed up with writer van Bruggen. This adds more depth to a project. The combination and interaction of images and text. Having someone to work with also greatly influences and enriches the creative process. Platforms like “Ideas Tap” offer a great place to find artists from different areas interested in jointly working together in long-term projects.
- Slow down: It may seem outdated and paradoxical taking into account how today’s media industry operates to spend almost five years working on a single project. But then again it’s admirable that there are people out there believing in high-quality storytelling that goes beneath the surface and doesn’t just produce sensational headlines.
- Funding: If you don’t have the funds to finance your project out of your own pocket, you have to be creative. There’s several ways to raise the money you need to carry out your photographic project: crowdfunding, sponsors, grants or media corporations. Depending on your goals, you have to determine which of these options suits you best. With media corporations you may limit your freedom as an artist as you might see yourself subject to the wishes a the news medium that’s supporting you. Time is another issue as media companies are usually interested in rather fast results.
- Creativity: Burn for your project and convince others to support you. Think of creative ways to thank you supporters and to let them participate in what you are doing: regular newsletter, behind-the-scenes stories, a signed copy of the book etc. By the time your project comes to an end and you’ve convinced your supporters of the quality of your work, they might be even willing to sponsor your next project.
For a behind-the-scene look at how Rob Hornstra and Arnold van Bruggen worked on their project, I recommend watching this video from the series “Picture Perfect”:
“The actual creative part is tiny. Most of the work is researching, writing (…) and finding funding.”
It seems trivial, but in order to successfully realize a long-term photographic project it takes patience and commitment. In all the work required you’ll find that the photographing is an extremely small part of the job.
Experienced documentary photographer Ami Vitale put it this way in a recent interview on how to realize complex assignments about stories out of the headlines: “The actual creative part is tiny. Most of the work is researching, writing, planning, and finding funding for long-term projects.”
If you are looking for ways to fund your project, here’s a list of organizations giving out grants and crowdfunding platforms:
- Alexia Foundation: Each year this foundation provides a professional photographer with a grant of $15,000 to produce a picture story.
- The Aftermath Project: A non-profit organization committed to tell stories of people living in conflict zones and how they managed to rebuild their destroyed lives. Grants of $ 15.000 annually.
- Crowdfunding for photo projects: “Kickstarter” and “Indiegogo”.
There’s also a free PDF-guide on crowdfunding your photography project available for download on Photoshelter.com.
One last thing I find very important – and can also be clearly seen when looking at “The Sochi Project” – is to look well ahead when searching for a subject for an ambitious long-term project. In a couple of weeks, the whole world will look at Sochi. But Hornstra and van Bruggen already started to work five years ago.
Leave the beaten tracks, thinks differently and anticipate events that in the future will attract a lot of attention. Good luck!
Once you’ve decided on your topic, it’s crucial to reach as many people as possible with your funding campaign.
Social media channels play a big role, and we at “Top Photography Films” are also always glad to give you a hand spreading the word. Just leave a comment or write an e-mail and tell us about your plans.