The funding forms part of the Society’s annual bursaries scheme, which each year apportions over £12,000 across four categories and is open to ‘anyone living or studying in the United Kingdom with a talent for taking photographs and an interest in the concerns we face today’.
Two successful applicants – one aged between 16 and 30, the other over-31 – will each receive £3,000 with which to complete their proposals. Each winner must produce a 1,000-word report and ten images at their projects’ culmination. Winners may use their money for any facet of their project, from travel and equipment, to launching a website or mounting an exhibition.
In the past, winning applicants have embarked on projects covering a multitude of themes and spanning a variety of cultural and environmental contexts. Kieran Dodds, who won the bursary in 2015, sought to cast light on Ethiopia’s so-called ‘church forests’ – rapidly dwindling forests that members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo church regard as ‘Edenic surrounds’ that form the ‘clothes of the church’. He wanted to document the potentially positive role of religion in global nature conservation, which, he claimed, had hitherto been ‘overshadowed by larger, predominantly Western narratives pitting science and faith at odds’.
Dodds spend a month in Ethiopia and told the RPS’ Journal:
‘With the photos, I wanted to show the passing of time, and reveal how these people are stewards of the Earth, caring for these trees which outlive them and benefit future generations.’
2013-winner Toby Smith walked the entire length of the proposed HS2 rail link – from Euston to Birmingham New Street – repurposing government engineering documents as his guides and capturing the sights he encountered, from post-industrial ruinscapes, to treehouses perched within the interstitial wasteland between motorways.
The project was published as an eight-page spread in the Sunday Times Magazine. Smith told Journal that the bursary ‘really gave the project momentum and helped it take shape’. Additionally, he said, he now gets approached by journalists seeking comment on the HS2 project.
Mandy Barker, who won the bursary in 2012, said:
‘The bursary enabled me to go on a voyage across the north Pacific Ocean. Basically it was a scientific expedition to collect and analyse the plastics that had entered the ocean as a result of the tsunami in 2011, off the coast of Japan.’
Barker completed a book documenting her project, Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals.
Alongside the Environmental Bursary, the RPS also offers £2,000 for a proposal for a photographic essay on an overseas social documentary issue, as well awards for short films and bursaries for postgraduate journalism students.