“photographers can get in the way of themselves, and lose sight of what’s essential”

Photographer Matt Black is one of the seven winners of the 2013 National Press Photographers Association Short Grants Competition, which gave each photographer $3,000 to fund an ongoing project.

CV chatted with Black about his grant proposal, which focused on Black Okies, descendants of African-American migrants from Oklahoma.

Columbia Visuals: Can you talk about your Black Okies project? How did you find it? How long have you worked on the project?

Matt Black: I drove past a little church one Sunday morning and I decided to go in. The pastor welcomed me, and that’s what opened the door to the community. That’s how I got started. This was in the mid-1990s, and I’ve been going back ever since.

CV: Have you already contacted subjects? Created a series of photos?

MB: I’ll be making a short film.  I’m revisiting people I’ve known from the beginning and meeting some new ones.

CV: Can you elaborate on your pitch? What advice would give a visual journalist who is working on a project and is looking to pitch it to grant contests?

MB: I really don’t care for that word [Advice], but clarity is the most important thing.  In the case of the Black Okies, it’s about a forgotten group of people, a piece of neglected history. That’s all there is to it — and that’s enough. I think what can happen sometimes is that photographers can get in the way of themselves, and lose sight of what’s essential about what they are doing. Your feelings can be complex, and your photos too, of course, but your thinking and your intentions should be clear.

CV: How do you fund your projects? Did you apply to other grants?

MB: I do a mix of journalism work and other projects. Journalism is always the end result, but I am open to other projects, other means of doing the work, if that’s what it takes to get it done.  My work on the Black Okies has been supported by a mix of publications and foundations, but that just comes with the territory with a project this long.  Film and multimedia projects seem to be playing a bigger role for me at the moment, but nothing changes in my approach.  It’s the same work to me, it’s all reporting, chronicling a place and a people that I think should be paid attention to.

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