North Carolina Documentary Photography Awards

Small farmhouse on a hill surrounded by small trees and shrubs

“Boxwoods and Junipers.” Swain County, North Carolina, circa 1940. Photograph by Bayard Wootten.

The North Carolina Documentary Photography Awards is an annual program available to UNC-Chapel Hill undergraduate and graduate students. The program is a proactive approach to acquiring photographs for the North Carolina Collection that depict current events, topics, or places within the state that have future research value to users of the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives (NCCPA). The North Carolina Collection will award $1,500 each for up to two UNC-Chapel Hill graduate students, and $1,000 each for up to two undergraduate students. To be eligible, undergraduates must be rising sophomores, juniors, or seniors during the summer of 2016; graduate students must not complete their degrees prior to the end of 2016 fall semester. A review panel composed of UNC library staff will select awardees.

Objectives of the project

  • Obtain contemporary documentary photographs on topics for use by researchers.
  • Create opportunities for UNC-Chapel Hill students to explore photographically, within the context of documentary photography, their own areas of interest as a means of visual research.
  • Broaden awareness of the NCCPA to UNC-Chapel Hill students and faculty.
  • Demonstrate the value of special collections, especially photographic archives, to the university community.

Call for Proposals

Applicants will submit documentary photography project proposals as self-directed work that enables them to explore an issue of interest and to communicate their results to others. Projects shall, to a greater or lesser degree depending on the topic, involve inquiry, design, investigation, research, scholarship, discovery, and writing.  Students may address local, national, or international issues, but photographs must be made in North Carolina between 9 May and 20 August 2016.  Applicants are encouraged to consider UNC-Chapel Hill’s pan-campus theme for the years 2015 through 2017,  Food for All: Local and Global Perspectives, “which challenges all areas of the university to examine wide-ranging topics from food cultures and nutrition, to food security, world hunger, agricultural economics, resource management, sustainable development, climate change and international trade.”  Proposals on other topics, however, will be given equal consideration.

Application Process and Deadlines

  1. Interested UNC-Chapel Hill students submit a 250-word (one page, double-spaced) “Intent to Apply” statement that outlines project proposal by Monday, 8 February 2016, 8:00 A.M.  “INTENT TO APPLY” STATEMENT DEADLINE EXTENDED UNTIL 22 FEBRUARY, 11:59 P.M.  Please email this statement as an attachment to with the subject line “North Carolina Documentary Photography Awards – Intent to Apply.”
  2. A review panel reads Intent to Apply statements and submits feedback to the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archivist.  12 February 2016 We encourage students to send letters of intent before the 22nd to afford them more time meet with photographic archivist for feedback that will assist them in completing their final applications.
  3. Applicants meet with the North Carolina Photographic Archivist by 19 February 25 February 2016.
  4. Final submissions for applications that have tracked through the above steps must be received at the reference desk in the Special Collections Research Room, on the west end of the second (main) floor in Wilson Library, by Monday, 29 February 2016 before 4:45 P.M.
  5. Review panel evaluates all final applications.
  6. Award recipient(s) will be notified by Wednesday, 9 March 2016.

Application Materials

  1. Documentary photography project proposal between 1,000 and 1,200 words;
  2. One-page resume highlighting proposal-related academic and personal experience;
  3. Portfolio of 20 photographs indicative of your photography;
  4. All necessary, if any, “permission to photograph” letters (identified in steps 2 and 3 of the application process).

Submit application material items 1, 2, and 3 on a CD-ROM or DVD in a clearly labeled jewel case; any original “permission to photograph” letters, if required.

Review Criteria

The primary award criteria will be the quality of the proposal, including:

  • Interesting, fresh, and significant research questions;
  • Ideas explained in an organized and compelling way;
  • Feasible scope of work for a three-month work period;
  • Methodology for completing the project;
  • Evidence of ability to complete work successfully;
  • Assessment of ability to complete work independently;
  • Quality of photographs submitted in application.

Applicants may wish, but are not required, to draw upon subject matter represented in the NCCPA. For example, Don Sturkey and Billy Barnes photographed poverty in the state during the late 1960s for The Charlotte Observer and the North Carolina Fund, respectively. Paul Cuadros documented migrant workers in the early 2000s, primarily in Chatham County. For a complete list of photographic collections in the NCCPA, see

Completion of Work

The North Carolina Collection Photographic Archivist will serve as a mentor to the award recipients during their projects. To reflect the depth and breath of coverage, award recipients must submit at least 300 exposures, either digital and/or film. Originals must be submitted as unaltered RAW digital exposures or as film negatives with proof sheets. Shooting JPEG is discouraged unless conditions merit. Photographers will select 25 final presentation images that may be cropped. Digital presentation images must be presented in DNG format and may be printed; presentation images from film negatives must be printed. All work must have identifying information using IPTC Core, and must be submitted no later than 6 September 2016. A student awardee will work independently and receive the award after submitting a completed project.

Rights to Images

The principal goals of the North Carolina Documentary Photography Project are the acquisition of photographic images of notable subjects for long-term preservation, and to make those photographs available for use by researchers using the NCCPA. To accomplish these goals, the NCCPA must preserve submitted photographs so that they will be accessible to researchers for generations. Awardees must therefore agree to make their work available to meet researchers’ needs, which include a clear understanding of their ability to use photographs made through the project. By accepting an award, photographers consent that photographs submitted for their projects will become a permanent part of the North Carolina Collection where it will be available to researchers of North Carolina history. Award recipients will have two options concerning copyright for their photographs. Option 1 is an unrestricted transfer of copyright to the NCCPA; option 2 allows photographers to retain copyright, yet permits the NCCPA to provide reproductions to researchers for scholarly use, and for commercial use with consent of the photographer so long as he/she responds to requests in a timely fashion. Award recipients will sign a detailed consent form outlining these terms.