Like many aspirational photographers, Ronojoy Sinha Dutta grew up reading National Geographic magazine. Over time, he realised something. “It was always about white photographers parachuting into Africa and Asia, telling stories of the other,” says Dutta, a digital media specialist at Kodak Alaris, based out of Rochester, New York. That narrative shaped his views of his own country, says Dutta, who started the Amplify Photo fund in 2020 to directly address this issue of power and privilege in the world of photography. Through this initiative, the second edition of which is currently in progress, he hopes to enable photographers from less-privileged backgrounds to tell their own stories, offering insider views of their communities.
The idea first struck him during the height of the pandemic, says Dutta. “I would see a lot of photographers in India share stories (on social media) of not finding work or freelance opportunities,” he says. These were established names in the industry, people who were already out there and well-known. And yet they were struggling to make a living, he recalls. It got him thinking about the other photographer in the industry, the less-established ones who weren’t yet famous. “Accessibility is an issue in photography; even people from more privileged backgrounds struggle with it,” he points out.
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So, he decided to do something about it. He put in $500 of his own and took to crowdfunding on social media, even relying on memes to raise money. “I let people know that I wanted to support atleast one photographer in India and, if they pitched in, we could support two,” he says. People began donating, and he raised ₹1 lakh, enough to grant two photographers ₹50,000 each, no strings attached. “More often than not, most grants expect you to produce a certain body of work within a particular time frame,” he says, adding that with Amplify Photo, they simply provide funding for people to go out and do whatever they wish with it—pay rent, travel, buy new equipment. “If someone is hungry and has to make rent, they may not have the mind space to produce work,” he says. “My whole point was to provide resources to photographers who may not have access to these resources.”
Amplify Photo put out an open call on 17 December 2020, inviting entries from people who identify as non-binary, all women, irrespective of background, and men from marginalised groups only. By the end of the open call, which ran till 20 January 2021, Amplify Photo had received 30 entries, which were assessed by a panel of judges comprising photographer, filmmaker and National Geographic Explorer, Deepti Asthana, National Geographic mobile storytelling producer and editor Shweta Gulati and artist-curator Vidisha-Fadescha. The inaugural grant was awarded to West Bengal-based Ranita Roy and Madurai-based Palani Kumar.
While the final winners of the second edition, the open call for which ran from 30 April to 6 June 2022, haven’t been announced yet, this time, Dutta raised ₹1.5 l, enough funding to support three photographers. Amplify Photo has also collaborated with the VII Academy to provide a 12-week Level 1 Seminar online for the winners of both the editions, as well as a few other promising submissions selected by this year’s panel. The panel will include historian Mridu Rai, photographer and documentary maker Aslam Saiyad, photographer Binaifer Bharucha and Deepti Asthana, who was also on the panel last year. “This time, we are providing both mentorship and resources,” says Dutta, who hopes to expand the scope of Amplify Photo over time. “We want to do multiple open calls; partner with educational institutions and NGOs; hope to do a portfolio review where people from these communities can get access to international and Indian editors and get feedback for their work, and start our own online platform,” he says.
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