An Open Letter to The Magenta Foundation from the Authority Collective, Natives Photograph and Women Photograph


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

It came to our attention, as organizations previously affiliated with the Flash Forward competition jurying process, that Toronto-Dominion (TD) Bank — connected to the Dakota Access Pipeline project as part of a lending syndicate — is a major funder of The Magenta Foundation. This is disappointing because of the pain and violence Indigenous communities were subjected to as a result of the pipeline project, which was made possible by the support of lending banks. We want to use this letter to address our concerns about this partnership and to offer potential solutions. We think The Magenta Foundation can do better as an industry leader and set an example for other photo organizations.

“Standing Strong” © Josué Rivas

First, we understand the importance of funding emerging photographers and their work, and recognize Magenta’s long-standing commitment to launching the careers of up-and-coming artists. We were excited when you tapped us as jurors and were honored to have a seat at the table. Some of our community members have even been recognized by the Flash Forward award. Others applied for this year’s competition or plan to apply in the future. But we believe challenging the power structures that harm our communities is just as important as working toward diversity and better representation in our field.

While Magenta’s inclusion of special competition categories like those for environmental issues and Indigenous issues is notable, there’s irony in promoting Indigenous voices while simultaneously accepting funding from a company that, through their lending practices, supports violence against these communities. We want jurors and photographers to be fully aware of Magenta’s partnership with TD, and the implications that relationship has on real communities. We hope our colleagues can make an informed decision about their involvement with the program.

“There’s irony in promoting Indigenous voices while simultaneously accepting funding from a company that, through their lending practices, supports violence against these communities.”

We acknowledge Magenta’s part in elevating underrepresented voices but this relationship to TD directly impacts Indigenous communities AND Indigenous photographers’ willingness to participate in the competition — thus leading to the erasure of Indigenous voices. Would past and future Flash Forward winners be comfortable knowing they are beneficiaries of TD’s contributions? How does accepting funding from TD make Magenta Foundation, Flash Forward jurors and awardees complicit in exacerbating violence against our Indigenous peoples in North America? We want our work as imagemakers to contribute to positive change in our world, and not brush the real-time displacement and violence against people under the rug.

“We acknowledge Magenta’s part in elevating underrepresented voices but this relationship to TD directly impacts Indigenous communities AND Indigenous photographers’ willingness to participate in the competition — thus leading to the erasure of Indigenous voices.”

While we understand the difficulty of acquiring financial support, especially in the photo world, this situation highlights the need for art non-profits and institutions to re-examine their funding sources and develop anti-racist, ethical guidelines for choosing their partnerships. As organizations pushing for a culture of accountability and better representation of our communities, we ask that The Magenta Foundation releases a statement addressing the following:

  • We want to better understand Magenta’s position on TD’s history and its relationship to The Magenta Foundation’s mission. Can we expect a statement from a TD Bank representative on their relationship to pipeline projects and their simultaneous interest in funding a photo competition aimed at elevating Native voices and environmental issues? Is Magenta pressuring TD to sever their relationship to pipeline projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline? And if so, how?
  • We call for transparency in The Magenta Foundation’s policies regarding corporate partnerships. What principles guide your decisions to partner with certain companies? How do you decide the value of a certain partnership in terms of financial commitment versus potential harm to communities and individuals? Do partners have influence on the competition results?
  • Will Magenta re-examine its community relationships ahead of next year’s competition? And if so, how?
  • Offer a full refund to applicants who withdrew their Flash Forward submission because of this partnership with TD Bank.
  • Continue providing opportunities for Indigenous photographers and other artists from marginalized communities to share the stories of their own communities, and succeed in the photography industry.
  • Has The Magenta Foundation considered the diversity of its staff and Board of Directors?
  • What does it mean to genuinely “decolonize photo”? Who is financially supporting our visual institutions and how does that impact the images we see?

We hope to hear from you soon and look forward to the opportunity to work together in establishing Magenta as an organization that aligns its funding and overall practices with its stated values.

Signed,

The Authority Collective | www.authoritycollective.org | authoritycollective@gmail.com

Natives Photograph | www.nativesphotograph.com | hello@nativesphotograph.com

Women Photograph | www.womenphotograph.com | hello@womenphotograph.com

About the Authority Collective

The Authority Collective is a group of womxn, non-binary, transgender and gender non-conforming people of color reclaiming their authority in the photography, film and VR/AR industries. Our mission is to empower marginalized artists with resources and community, and to take action against systemic and individual abuses in the world of lens-based editorial, documentary and commercial visual work.

About Natives Photograph

Natives Photograph is a space to elevate the work of Indigenous visual journalists and bring balance to the way we tell stories about Indigenous people and spaces. Our mission is to support the media industry in hiring more Indigenous photographers to tell the stories of their communities and to reflect on how we tell these stories.

About Women Photograph

Women Photograph is an initiative that launched in 2017 to elevate the voices of women* visual journalists. The private database includes more than 900 independent women documentary photographers based in 100+ countries and is available privately to any commissioning editor or organization. Women Photograph also operates an annual series of project grants for emerging and established photojournalists, a year-long mentorship program, and a travel fund to help female photographers access workshops, festivals, and other developmental opportunities. Our mission is to shift the gender makeup of the photojournalism community and ensure that our industry’s chief storytellers are as diverse as the communities they hope to represent.

Note: In January 2019, the Authority Collective and Natives Photograph privately reached out to Magenta Foundation’s Founder and President with the concerns and demands outlined in this letter. After receiving a disappointing response indicating the organization’s unwillingness to engage meaningfully or address their partnership with TD Bank, we chose to release this letter to make room for public dialogue on the issue.