Last summer I began the process of applying for a Guggenheim Fellowship. I had decided in the spring to take on this endeavor, and I spent a great deal of time thinking about the proposal I would submit.
In the end - and over the course of several weeks - I wrote three separate proposals. The Guggenheim folks basically want to know how you might spend a year (and $30,000 to $40,000) completing a project you would not otherwise have the time and/or resources to put into motion. It's an amount that is supposed to free you from the chains of having to "work" during the year - designed to allow the you to devote your creative efforts to a project of your own choosing for a duration of approximately one year. Think Robert Frank and "The Americans."
I finally settled on proposal #3, spent a lot of time writing and assembling other support information, made a set of twenty very carefully edited photographs and convinced four esteemed people to write letters of recommendation for me. When I sent everything in the day before the deadline, I was glad to be finished, but I was also really happy that I had subjected myself to the process. While it was somewhat grueling, it proved to be a thought provoking period, full of introspection and self evaluation - one that forced me to consider more fully than ever the choices I have made living a photographer's life.
The process of applying for a Guggenheim Fellowship is shrouded in secrecy. There are few hints to be found anywhere in books or online. There is no "how to" manual. I ended up making several calls to past "Guggie" recipients so I could find out what their secrets to success were. I finally realized that it was a total crap shoot for me; I didn't really expect to get it (but, of course, I was secretly hoping I would).
I got the rejection letter today.
It was the same day my grandson Henry got to come home from the hospital after a pretty severe and scary illness. Because of that timing, I was able to put it all into a proper and healthy perspective and realize that everything is relative. The joy and sheer relief I felt that grandson Henry was well enough to come home and that he will be fine was so much bigger than anything I felt about the Guggenheim. I ended this day feeling truly blessed, not sad or depressed.