It’s the start of July and Fiona Rogers finds herself in Arles for the annual photography festival. This is not her first visit to the small French town, but this trip is more significant than previously. She has come to see Sanne De Wilde’s work displayed in a major exhibition, less than a year after the Belgian photographer was announced as the winner of Rogers’ Firecracker grant.
“Seeing the exhibition and the book that she has produced with some of the contributions from the grant is incredible. To see [her work] existing with a real publishing house and displayed in the space of Arles, with all the context and reputation of that festival, I was like a proud parent” explains Rogers.
Without doubt, it’s a highlight in the Firecracker story, but Rogers has been working away behind the scenes for seven years. Magnum Photos’ global business development manager by day, she created the platform almost accidentally after a trip to Australia in 2010. While there she came across Light Journeys, an online platform to promote emerging women photographers down under by Lee Grant. On her return to the UK, Rogers began working on a European version, dubbed Firecracker.
“[Photographers] put a lot of trust in me. I was basically just saying, ‘I’m setting up a glorified blog. Can I feature your images for free?’” recalls Rogers with some bemusement.
As the website gained traction Rogers decided to develop it, launching the annual Firecracker Photographic Grant, through fundraising and the supportive partnership of Genesis Imaging. The fund would help one selected female photographer to develop a project. “It felt like the natural evolution was to be even more supportive, something that went beyond showcasing work online,” she says, adding that she tapped into her supporters to raise the cash. “It started out pretty small: everybody contributed £10 to put into the pot and then we managed to flip that into a grant that was £1000 and now it’s grown to £2000.”
This collaborative nature of both the platform and grant is something last year’s winner De Wilde emphasises as one of the most rewarding parts of her experience. “I very much believe in bringing people together to counterbalance photography’s solitary nature and Firecracker, especially focusing on empowering women photographers, creates a powerful unity that I am happy and thankful to be a part of,” she says.
De Wilde adds, “It’s thanks to the Firecracker grant and Genesis’ support I was able to present my new book, The Island of the Colorblind, in Arles. To exhibit there made the support and appreciation of my work tangible.”
De Wilde isn’t the only past winner who’s gone on to further success. The 2015 winner, Spanish photographer Lua Ribeira, went on to exhibit Noises in the Blood at the Fishbar Gallery and win the Jerwood prize. The year before that, the prize was given to Diana Markosian, who has now become a Magnum photographer. It sounds like a lot to live up to, but Rogers emphasises that the grant is open to incomplete and ongoing projects.
“The idea is that it is not necessarily rewarding the best work,” explains Rogers. “It’s something that helps to finalise a body of work. So we always ask for a project that has been started and not yet finished. Some people want to go finish shooting, some people want to put it towards a book. We’re looking for something promising but by no means that is polished and completed. [A project] that we can see the potential in.”
“The Firecracker Grant was the first recognition that my work received,” says Ribeira. “It provided me with great support and has facilitated many great things since. It is a truly generous opportunity which I am proud to have received.”
Diana Markosian, who won the grant in 2014, echoes her words. “It gave me the room to experiment with my storytelling, without the pressure of a commission,” she says. “It allowed me to slow down, and to re-evaluate the way I approach my photography, pushing it in a different direction.”
And that’s particularly rewarding for Rogers, who argues that photography needs to be open to more women because they can different stories to their male counterparts. “Often the work that women are producing shows a slightly different side of events,” she says. “Take for example photographs such as those produced by Laura El-Tantawy in Egypt. It’s such a personal viewpoint and a lot of the work is being made from a real authentic point of view, and I think that’s lost sometimes in what we do [more often in the industry].”
But Rogers is also careful not to generalise, pointing to the diversity of the work she’s featured on Firecracker over the last seven years – and in the forthcoming book, Firecrackers, which will be published on 10 August by Thames & Hudson. Co-authored by Max Houghton, the book picks out 30 emerging female photographers from around the world.
“We wanted photographers that were doing very different types of work – there are a lot of people that people will know, and then I hope there will be a few surprises,” says Rogers. “These 30 amazing, young photographers are producing incredible work. That’s what I want people to take home: it’s about them and their work. It’s a good record of what is happening in photography right now.”
She hopes it will also help inspire other women photographers, both to make the work that they want and to have the courage to put it out there. “I think my biggest advice is participating as much as you can and being part of the conversation,” she says. “Half of the battle is confidence and being confident enough to be yourself.”
The Firecracker Photographic Grant is currently open for 2017 submissions until 1st August. To be considered for the fund, photographers should submit a small portfolio of their current project and include details of how they hope the funding will facilitate them to finish their project. www.fire-cracker.org
Firecrackers: Female Photographers Now by Fiona Rogers & Max Houghton is published on 10 August through Thames & Hudson, £29.95. https://thamesandhudson.com