When Photography Gets Personal – The Bob and Diane Fund

When Photography Gets Personal – The Bob and Diane Fund

At this year’s Look3 conference, National Geographic Creative’s Gina Martin announced the inception of a photographer grant, the Bob and Diane Fund, named in memory of her parents. Gina’s mother, Diane, was a victim of Alzheimer’s, and with that in mind, she created an annual $5,000 grant to support visual storytelling about Alzheimer’s and dementia, which affects over 48 million people worldwide. The grant is accepting submissions until October 15. We spoke to Gina via email.

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The creation of the grant was personal for you because your mother was  diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2006. Had you had any experience with the disease prior to this?

Yes, my dad’s mother had the disease and passed away in 1989. Surprisingly, she only had it for maybe 1-2 years at the most when she passed away.   was only around the disease during occasional visits and listening to my dad talk about it – but it did not have a huge impact on me at the time. I vividly remember sitting with her and she had this blank stare on her face, and that stayed with me. I never wanted my mom to have that empty blank stare, which she did in the end. That always made me sad.

You’ve worked and supported the photography industry for many years. Was the creation of the fund a logical evolution to help photographers while highlighting the disease?  

Absolutely. It is a very difficult industry to be in for a photographer. I truly believe in supporting photographers – whether that is buying their books, prints, introducing them to editors, hosting them at my home, or giving advice when I can. My dream job would be to give photographers money for their personal projects – but this is not a reality for me. However, I realized that I can start small and build this into something more for when I retire. It just made sense to support photographers and at the same time honor my parents by bringing awareness to this disease.

Image courtesy of Gina Martin

Image courtesy of Gina Martin

You have a stellar panel of judges with Sarah Leen (Director of Photography, National Geographic), Chip Somodevilla (Getty Images), and MaryAnne Golon (Director of Photography, Washington Post). Have you discussed a judging criteria with them?  What are you looking for?

I am very lucky to have such amazing support in this industry.  Sarah Leen and Chip Somodevilla are both on my board. Because I did not feel it was appropriate for me to judge, we decided to have a “guest judge” each year. MaryAnne Golon replied to my email in about 5 seconds.  We have not discussed the criteria yet – but will when we all sit down in November.  We are asking for only still and video submissions and a proposal. So obviously the work has to be strong, but we also want to consider the purpose behind this work and what they want to do with it.

Do you have any plans for showcasing the winning work?

Yes.  I already have commitments from 2 leading online platforms to announce the grantee and the work. I am also in discussion with a few publications to print the work (assuming they are still images). My goal is to exhibit at an Alzheimer’s convention/seminar every other year or so. I also hope to have a few photo festivals to project the winning work each year.

We live in a social-media enabled world where so many great causes compete for attention. What challenges do you anticipate in bringing attention to this important cause

This is very true. There are so many wonderful causes out there and that I personally support – like the Chris Hondros Fund, Too Young to Wed, Where Love is Illegal.  I was afraid to not only take my attention away from these, but competing for attention, support, etc. However, I have been AMAZED at the support and kindness I have received from not only those 3 organizations but the entire photo community.  I believe this is for 2 reasons: First, there has not been a grant on such a specific subject before and secondly, I have been very open and honest about the love, respect and honor I had for my parent’s – and I think this community has always responded so warmly to that.

Image courtesy of Gina Martin

Image courtesy of Gina Martin

Have you reached out to other non-profits (e.g. Alzheimer’s Association) to leverage what will undoubtedly be incredible content?

Yes. This has been an interesting angle for me to pursue.  I have been aggressively reaching out to the dementia community on Twitter (which I was not on before). This has been very productive. Since I launched in June I have been interviewed by the the Alzheimer’s Association (CA Chapter), did an hour radio interview for Alzheimer’s Speaks Radio and have been invited to attend a Women Against Alzheimer’s seminar later this month. It’s been amazing! When I say it has been an interesting angle for me, what I mean by that is that I feel like I am now turning into an advocate, not just a Daughter of Alzheimer’s who is supporting a photography grant.

Your personal contribution funds the grant. In this age of cutbacks and restricted budgets, do you think this is the new normal for photographers looking to work on “longform” content – i.e. a patron-model for specific issues?

I want to explain why I am personally funding $5,000 for this grant. For the last 6+ years my family and I have been raising money for the Alzheimer’s Association in honor of our mother, named TEAM DIANE.  We have raised almost $70,000. I do a LOT of this raising from social media. However, I do not want the grant money to take away from TEAM DIANE. I am not taking my friend/family’s generous $25, $50, $100 donations for the grant – but rather go directly to research and finding a cure. The donation link on the Bob & Diane Fund page goes directly to our TEAM DIANE page. However…I want the grant to grow and give more money each year and support more photographers. I am going to some organizations and asking them to match my $5,000 (or more). I also plan to do a print sale once a year to raise money for the grant. As for photographers using grants to support their work – yes, I believe this is an important model. However, I just feel that Alzheimer’s stories can get lost in larger grants and now have the opportunity to understand the work and grant they are applying for.

When you thought about the work that might result from the grant, did you have in mind work from other photographers who had tackled similar issues?

I did. On my website I have an “Inspiration” page which shows work by Philip Toledano, Maggie Steber, Ed Kashi & Julie Winokur and Sarah Leen. All of these stories inspired me while I was trying to understand the disease. There is a specific scene in The Sandwich Generation multimedia piece (produced by Media Storm) where Ed Kashi is “scolding” his Father-in-Law Herbie for leaving the house and getting lost.  It brings tears to my eyes every time. But honestly, I have no expectations on who will win or what type of visual storytelling because there is so much interesting and unique work out there.

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Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter.

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