Veejay Villafranca: Working in Collaboration with NGOs

Yesterday June 5, 2013. Award-winning photographer Veejay Villafranca gave a talk about "Working in Collaboration with NGOs" during the second day of Greepeace's "The Climate Imperative" exhibition in Eastwood Mall.
Veejay started out the first two challenges that a photographer would face in pitching a collaboration with an NGO
1) That they don't hire photographers with very little experience in the industry/field. I take that as, the NGO will look at your portfolio and credentials to check if you are what you say you are. If you have done the kind of work you are pitching before or have done something similar to it that they can gauge your ability to deliver. And your reputation perhaps from networks from friend of a friend of a friend.
2) That they don't usually hire photographers to do these long-term photography documentaries. Your work must somehow align with the organizations own agendas/advocacies for the collaboration to be plausible. And in this Veejay said that research is bery important and helpful.
The photodocumentary that Veejay pitched to Greenpeace was his long-term documentary project "Displace Earth".
It was an effort to collect, edit and present the recurring flooding and calamities that he been documenting over a couple of years. He primarily pitched to ask for funding to continue the project.
Ms. Grace, which was the Greenpeace Southeast Asia Regional Images Officer, stated that it was 2010 when they received Veejay's pitch. And that they don't normally do that kind of thing. But they do commission photographers to document certain events/news or organization activity. They "seldom" do the photodocumentary thing. And that they don't normally accept pitches.
She said that budget was a restriction. But something in Veejay's pitch caught enough of her interest that she brought it up to their Campaign Manager.
They then worked together and revised Veejay's worked to make it more aligned with the organization's agendas. From something that is strongly story/narrative-based series of photographs to a more commission/organization-iniated project looking work.
In this Veejay said, that we do have to make compromises/adjustments if we feel really strong about a topic/theme that we want to get the story/images out of there. In the public, for more people to see and for more people to get involved in.
Then the project moved to be a communications project for Greenpeace.

From there they crafted the story of the photodocumentary exhibit now on display in Eastwood Mall. It was a three part story, covering three countries, presenting three parts of the Climate Change problem.
Problem - Indonesis - being all coal, coal mining, coal power generator, coal exporter
Coal as Ms. Grace said is environmentally harmful from extraction to usage.
Solution - Thailand - The country Ms. Grace said is being promoted as a renewable-energy country. With it's many solar powerplants. Though they still have coal power plants there.
Impact - Philippines - Flooding. Philippines they said is one of the countries that is very vulnerable to the problems that climate change is bringing.
The climate change problem Veejay said is a very scientific problem. Which could be hard to grasp and understand in matters of consequence and importance. So it is effective to deliver in a visual manner so it will be easier to grasp and understand.
So in working with NGOs you have to be patient because the time from presentation to actualization can be very far. Two years for this exhibit. So you have to be actively doing other projects as you are doing this. Veejay also advised that you research your target NGO well that you can be specific enough on what you want and what you think they will want from your pitch.
It was pitched in 2010 and the first exhibit which was held in Indonesia took place in 2012.

The Venue ProblemAnother challenged faced by the organization and the photographers into bringing this exhibit into life is the venue. They wanted it to be held in a mall. So that it will be exposed a more broader audience and will influence more people compared to holding it in a gallery. At least that's the case for the Philippines part of the exhibit.
SM. Greenpeace is against SM. So not.
Ayala. Ayala offered the exhibit a huge space to use but later in the development of the event. New broke out that Ayala is starting a coal mine. Which was confirmed by the Ayala people. So objectively not.
Robinson's Magnolia. The new one in new manila. Was also good at first. Because the place was being promoted as eco-friendly and the staff there were excited to hold an event because the mall is new. But they were a stakeholder of the Reclamation plan in Manila Bay. So no again.
Then finally Eastwood. Which is owned by Megaworld. Which kinda don't have any strong enough conflicts yet with the organization.
So the lesson Ms. Grace said: Is to research the venue first before sending a proposal.
Greenpeace is really solid rock on their integrity into holding up to their vision. Though in my education as a to-be-advertising-practitioner sometimes effectiveness must be put forward against integrity. The product will do good afterwards if it is really good. Like big, stylized photographs of burgers are effective at selling even though it is not the same, even not close in some instance, to the real thing. But it gets the message across effectively and entices enough for people to give it a try and judge for themselves ( or not). Just my thoughts. The Ayala could be more effective for this exhibit.
So because of these changes in plan the exhibit was moved and moved. Was supposed to be February they say.
The first one was held in Indonesia in a Gallery in Antakara.
The second one held in a Photography Festival in Thailand.
And the last leg of the exhibit held in the Philippines in a mall.

Do good researchDo good research Sir Veejay said because there are some organizations that just wants to take all your photos and hand you the check.
Yes it is true that part of the work is money. But that is not all.
Which was what the colleague and retire AP photography Pat clarified. That although money is a factor for both the photographer and the organization. What's more important to keep in mind is the involvement. How involved, serious is the organization/photographer/collaborator about the cause.
Are they as committed as to know that they will not be making that much money but they will be able to put forth their cause. They will be able to communicate the problems and the solutions out there in the public. To be digested and acted upon.

All talk
Then Sir Veejay rants about how some younger photographers (hopefully not me) talks/writes about their causes but then makes ineffective, not impactful, not even obviously about the cause photographs.
He says that they can be so closed minded that they will take an honest critique as a bad thing and get mad.
In that I think a critique should not be given unless asked. And in that I think the Behance/98b portfolio review was such a great experience/event/tool for us who are serious about improvement and mastery.

The CoveAnother thing that Veejay share the movie "The Cove". Which is about the Sea Shepherd. The crew that catches and destroys ship propellers of whale hunters. The one lead by the committed enough to do the dangerous hard work former Greenpeace guy.
The Cove Sir Veejay said is about the "hidden" documenting of the murderous killing of many dolphins in Japan. Where the Japanese traps dolphins in a cove then kills them. The intellegent, skillful thing about this movie is that the footages were captured with the Japanese not knowing it. The cameras where camouflaged to look like rocks harmoniously blended in the environment.
This I must see the trailer.

So what do they look for?So what does Ma'am Grace look for in collaborations?
They should be good-looking. Ms. Grace says first and foremost.
No age limit. As Pat and Dion exemplify.
Experience/Credentials/CV. Or I think the work/portfolio to illustrate that you did what you said you did.

There you go.
As I am not a educated in writing forgive my wrong grammar and misplace punctuation marks.
And please do comment. Or please do clarify if I mis-wrote something.

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