Andrea Wise

Insights from the Alexia Foundation Grant Selection

The Alexia Foundation is by far one of the most special parts of being a photography student at Syracuse's Newhouse school.

Most people remember the Pan Am Flight 103 that was bombed over Lockerbie, Scotland on December 21, 1988. Just a chillingly tragic act of terrorism. But what many don't realize is that on that plane were 35 Syracuse University students returning home from a semester abroad. One of those Syracuse students was Alexia Tsairis, a promising young photographer whose potential to make change on this world with her own photography, was cut way too short when she was taken from her family that day 25 years ago. 

My favorite stories are always ones of resilience and the power of the human spirit. Stories of humans, like Peter & Aphrodite Tsairis, Alexia's parents, who are able to turn their loss and pain into something tremendously beautiful and powerful that can help others - those are the stories that inspire me. And that's what the Tsairis' have done by creating a foundation in their daughter's honor that promotes Photography that Drives Change. It's a really remarkable thing. 

Every year, the Alexia Foundation awards a $20,000 grant to help a professional photographer produce a body of work that shares the Foundation's mission to promote peace and cultural understanding, as well as a $5,000 student grant for the same purpose. Recently, the Foundation has also added a $25,000 Women's Initiative Grant for projects around a significant issue affecting women around the world.

For 25 years, this Foundation has supported countless truly important projects by visual journalists, many of whom could not have completed their projects without the Foundation's support.

So that's all well and good but what do you do if you're a photographer working on an important project and you just don't know how to win a grant? Grant/proposal writing isn't an exact science, but it's also not something that comes naturally to visually minded people, not unless they've already got some experience doing it.

Helping those photographers was the purpose of this film that I edited and produced in collaboration with my very talented classmates in Mike Davis' Picture & Multimedia Editing class.

Between several student cinematographers, portrait photographers, editors and an awesome student composer, this piece was truly a team effort. It was certainly challenging at times coordinating that many people and then working with footage from so many cameras.

But even more so, although the panelists were brilliant and well spoken, trying to distill hours and hours of photo-wisdom into a digestible and compelling but educational film was a bit overwhelming. Fortunately, as a team, we had the foresight to plan ahead: elements like recording the judging screencast, setting up two time lapse cameras, and recording the phone call with the winner wound up proving invaluable for giving some visual variety and movement to drive the piece.

Because ultimately, it doesn't matter how interesting your words are, audiences don't want to just watch three people sitting in a room talk at them for 5 minutes. And in a case like this where the panelist's words are not only interesting but also provide a very rare look into a grant selection committee's thought process, it's our job as storytellers to find a way to keep our audience engaged enough to actually hear that wisdom, and take it in.

There's some great insight to be learned in here, and I would love nothing more than to hear down the line from a photographer that what they learned in this piece helped them successfully win a grant to carryout a project they care about. Cheers to that, eh?