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Putting Emphas.is on documentary photography

Photograph by Karim Ben Khelifa, taken in Rafah

(Click to the end for more of his work)

Documentary photography has, in recent years, found an uncomfortable home amongst the ‘noble arts’ – noble because photojournalists, like artists, musicians and writers, are finding contract (aka paid) assignments few and far between. Karim Ben Khelifa is one such photojournalist. For the last twelve years he’s traveled the world, mainly the Middle East, documenting the war in Kosovo and Iraq as well as struggles in Yemen, Egypt and Palestine, to name just a few. But even with a portfolio that would easily impress any news outlet, Ben Khelifa was still having a difficult time securing backing for his work. As he watched one project after the next remain unfinished due to a lack of funding, he grew frustrated and decided to take matters into his own hands.

“’I have to either make everything working against me work for me — like a judo move — or just stop doing this,’ he said. The judo move is getting money from the process instead of from the photos themselves.” (NY Times)

Just this year Ben Khelifa and photo editor Tina Ahrens created Emphas.is, a site that connect photojournalists with potential investors. Like Kickstarter, Emphas.is is based on community funding, pledges both large and small from individuals and organizations alike. But unlike Kickstarter, the photographers featured on Emphas.is are thoroughly screened by a large panel of working photographers and photo editors. Then, once a project is funded, investors have access to the photographer and their on-going project.

“We believe photojournalism has a large and enthusiastic following that would be willing to contribute financially when given the right incentive,” the founders declared on their Web site. “Emphas.is offers this incentive in the form of exclusive access to top photojournalists carefully selected by a board of reviewers composed of industry professionals.”

You can check out recently funded projects, like the one started by 26-year-old photographer Sara Elliot and four colleagues that documents the after-effects of the 240+ rapes that were committed during the four-day rebel attack in eastern Congo last year, or peruse the impressive line-up of donation-worthy photographers at Emphas.is.