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Passion Projects now open for Northwest Photojournalists

The Society of Professional Journalists Western Washington chapter will offer its annual “Passion Project” grant for Northwest photojournalists beginning this Spring 2017.

The Pew Research Center reported photographers and visual journalists have been the newsroom staffers hit hardest by layoffs throughout the United States. Their jobs have been trimmed by about half during the last 10 years. More than ever, photographers and videographers are self-funding important documentary projects within our communities. This SPJ Passion Projects professional grant will award $1,000 to help a visual journalist continue a self-initiated project.

Grants are open to professional photographers and videographers in Washington state. All submissions must be documentary-style projects, and should be focused on social issues, environmental issues, or issues of social concern. Proposals will be judged by the merits of the project, the applicant’s photographic skills and the likelihood the photojournalist will accomplish the project.

The selected project will receive recognition at an SPJ event in June.



Meryl Schenker will start work on her project,  “The Hidden Face of Mental Illness” in the next month. After testing in the studio, Schenker has developed a photographic approach to humanize and lend dignity to those who struggle with mental illness and are successful in spite of it. Each photo will be paired with text describing the subjects’ struggles and successes.

“My subjects will be co-collaborators, speaking out about their illnesses in an effort to reduce the associated stigma,” said Schenker. “My aim is to show that people can manage mental illness and be highly productive, successful contributors to society. Viewers will learn that there is no shame in seeking treatment.”

Schenker said she is deeply appreciative of the grant’s monetary benefits and the exposure generated interest from a magazine, a university and people interested in participating— all before she took her first photo. Schenker asks that if you know anyone who might be interested in participating in the project, to contact her directly at

To see more of Meryl’s work check out her portfolio.



Receiving the Passion Projects grant not only made it easier for Ryder to do work he cares about, but also granted him a helpful extra level of legitimacy. When approaching NGOs, businesses, and subjects as a freelancer, it’s helpful to have the backing of a publication or funding source, he said. When he mentions that he has support from the Passion Projects grant, doors open more quickly.

And of course, as an independent journalist, any monetary support goes a long way. Covering Islamophobia and its effects on Myanmar’s Muslims has been a self-funded personal project for Ryder.

“Money from the Passion Projects grant was instrumental in allowing me to continue without having to spend time pursing other work,” Ryder said.

To see more of David’s work from Myanmar’s Muslims project click here.

@David Ryder

@David Ryder



Oftentimes as a freelance journalist it can be difficult to find additional resources that allow photojournalists to work on personal projects, continuing to delve in-depth about important issues. “It was a huge honor to be awarded the Society of Professional Journalists Western Washington chapter’s ‘Passion Projects’ grant in its inaugural year,” McKnight said.

The money from the grant allowed McKnight to do a return trip to South Dakota where he continued to focus on reporting on the Keystone XL pipeline along the Great Plains.

“I spent time at a peace camp near Ideal, South Dakota that I previously visited and wanted to document more, and also explored how people interact with water in many ways, understanding that a contaminated water supply could adversely affect Native Americans living on the Rosebud-Sioux reservation,” McKnight said.

McKnight said he was grateful for the help in funding the road trip and continued exploration on the project.

“Throughout last summer’s exploration,” he said, “I kept returning to thoughts of how we share such a wonderful and supportive community.”

To see more of Matt’s work check out his portfolio.

IMAGE: Oyate Wahacanka Woecun Peace Camp near Ideal, S.D. - From ongoing project: 'Keystone XL: LIfe on the Line' @Matt Mills McKnight

Oyate Wahacanka Woecun Peace Camp near Ideal, S.D. – From ongoing project: ‘Keystone XL: LIfe on the Line’ @Matt Mills McKnight

To apply, please send the following items to with the subject line “Passion Projects” by midnight on Monday, May 15th.

In the proposal, please include:

  • SYNOPSIS: In fewer than 30 words, write a summary of the project.
  • PROPOSAL: A written proposal of fewer than 800 words describing the still or multimedia project and how it would be presented to the public. Photographers may propose projects that are already in progress or in the early stages. Please include relevant research, contacts and a URL to any photographs associated with the project.
  • WEBSITE: Please include the photojournalist’s web page.

Interested in supporting the Passion Projects? Please considering making a donation here and specify “Passion Projects.”


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