Announcing three $2,500 photography grants to honor my late husband

Anjali Pinto
Oct 27, 2017 · 5 min read

Nothing could have prepared me for this ending. My husband Jacob Johnson was only 30, our marriage still in its infancy, when an undiagnosed aortic dissection ended his life on December 31, 2016.

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His health was never in question, which makes his instantaneous and unanticipated death difficult to understand. A few minutes of chaos was all that separated our everyday life from this catastrophe.

With the hope of honoring his talent and generosity, I’ve established a set of grants to support documentary photography that may otherwise lack funding.

The Jacob Johnson Memorial Grants are open to anyone willing to share a personal story through photography, the medium that ignited our love.

We were introduced in 2012 via Instagram, with an unforgettable flurry of likes and comments accumulating over several months before our first meeting. My crush began with a deep dive into his persona as a cute, outdoorsy and Iowa-born craftsman. My feelings were solidified as I sat across from him and met the man he was: extraordinarily handsome, funny, creative and attentive.

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We joked that the next few months consisted only of “skipping steps,” ignoring the threat of backfire as we hurriedly moved in, introduced each other to family, traveled abroad and consolidated our lives into one beautiful entanglement.

Each time I spoke up about my fears of losing him or being heartbroken, he saw it as an opportunity to show me his love and devotion were unwavering. I married an incredible partner, collaborator and friend. Throughout our relationship, the astonishment of finding each other inspired us to take photos. A lot of photos.

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The thousands of portraits we made of each other were intended to be our photographic legacy. I imagined that one day, perhaps on our 50th anniversary, we would publish a book chronicling our relationship over time. We were not afforded that ending, but I continue to share our story in a different light.

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In the wake of this tremendous loss, I have learned that vulnerability and honesty open the door to a compassionate audience. Sharing my innermost feelings about Jacob’s death has strengthened the community that supports me, and highlighted the importance photography can play in coping with grief.

A photograph can serve as a tangible memory of those we love and can no longer touch. Jacob’s portraits contain the beauty and nuance of his personality that words fail to capture. When I look at them, I am connected to our memories and history. I want Jacob to continue to have the power to inspire us, even in death. The Jacob Johnson Memorial Grants will fund three stories of people, places, moments or issues that are meaningful to the artist’s life.


To honor the city that helped shaped Jacob Johnson as an artist, one grant will be awarded to a Chicago-based photographer. The local photographer will also be invited to attend Jacob Johnson’s Memorial art show on January 22, 2018.


To honor those often excluded from mainstream media due to their race, gender or social philosophy, one grant will be given to a photographer producing work that gives voice to the underrepresented.


In honor of our relationship, in which we photographed one another without hesitation, one grant will be awarded to a photographer working on a portrait series.

What is the timeline?

Applications open October 28, 2017.

The deadline to submit is 11:59 p.m. December 15, 2017.

Winners will be announced by January 22, 2018.

Who is eligible?

Any photographer over the age of 18, able to submit an application in English. Winners must be able to accept grant money via PayPal.

What is the purpose of the grants?

To fund and reward personal narratives, stories that have directly impacted or involve the photographer, or portrait series on a topic of personal significance to the artist.

What if my photo project is just an idea?

Please apply! There’s no better time to start your project than now. Writing out and formulating your idea may be the kickstart you need. Eligible projects can be new, ongoing or near completion.

What if I have a bunch of project ideas?

Please, choose your best one. I’m restricting entries to one application per person.

What if my project is already complete and has been printed or exhibited?

Good on ya! But let’s give this money to someone who needs help getting to the finish line. Finished projects are not eligible.

Are there restrictions on how the money can be used?

The grant money is awarded, no strings attached, for the photographer to use as they wish.

When will the winner receive the funds?

The grants will be awarded via PayPal after the announcement.

When does the project need to be completed?

The grant is intended to support new or ongoing projects through the stages of publication or exhibition. It is our intention to review and present the work and help the artist share their story with a new audience.

Where will my work be presented?

During a memorial for Jacob on his birthday January 22, 2018, I will present the winners of the grants in conjunction with an art show. I will also share the recipent’s name and work on my Instagram.

What medium can be submitted?

Please submit only still photographs, video work will not be considered.

How do I apply?

Fill out the application, including 5 samples of relevant work.

More questions? You can email

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