When the Czech Press Photo contest was established in 1995, the idea was to make the creative grant as one of the prizes; it had never existed in the field of photography before, and it was though that it would give photographers an opportunity to work on serious, long-term documentary projects. The Prague Mayor’s patronage of the competition and the enormous changes happening in Prague in the post-Velvet Revolution era during the 1990s, lead to naming the award the Grant of Prague. It was intended for the documentation of the changes in the capital and would be awarded annually by the Mayor. And so a kind of second Czech Press Photo main prize was established right from the start of the contest. Unlike the first prize – Photograph of the Year – the grant is awarded for work that will only be done in the following year. The Mayor himself decides on the recipient of the grant, on the recommendation of the jury, who make their pre-selection based on the quality of the photographs entered in the competition by individual applicants. Each of the grant’s recipients selects his topic of preference within the ‘changing face of the capital’ brief to work on in the following year. At the end of this period the grantee is obliged to present the Prague City Archives and the Municipality with a set of thirty best photographs for archival and exhibition purposes. He himself then exhibits a wider selection of his work at a one-man show running concurrently with the Czech Press Photo exhibition. So the Grant of Prague helps to not only preserve a record of the changes happening in the capital but also to inspire photographers to long-term coverage of Prague topics. In all the years of awarding the Grants, the Prague Town Hall has received a representative collection of photographs that enable to trace and evaluate the changes in Prague from many thematically different angles. The financial remuneration of the grant these days is perhaps not much if the photographer wants to map out his topic systematically for a year and to present a set of photographs that he would not be ashamed to put his signature under. But it is an opportunity for interesting, independent and prestigious work. In 1995 the first grant was awarded to an experienced documentary photographer, Jaroslav Kucera, for work on a social theme. A year later, another prominent photographer, Jan Sagl, documented the changes in Prague’s architecture. A year after that Karel Kuklik, a photographer with many thematic projects under his belt, photographed the expansion of the city into the surrounding countryside, while the excellent creator of testimonies of contemporary life, Karel Cudlin, photographed the big construction sites in Prague; the fresh documentary talent Libuse Rudinska moved on from her early portraits of people who live in the Zizkov area of Prague to include the so-called new people in Prague. In 2000, Maria Kracikova worked on the subject of railway stations and a year later Jiri Krenek photographed hypermarkets. Then followed Herbert Slavik, Stepanka Stein and Salim Issa. In 2004 Jan Schejbal replaced Tomki Nemec (who stepped aside) with his Suburbs of Prague project, and in 2005 Karel Cudlin got the grant for the second time. There is no doubt that the tradition of these grants is a historical accomplishment by the Prague Town Hall for the benefit of future generations. But the existence of the grant means first and foremost a motivation for photographers. The proof of it is the increasing number of projects entered in the competition, with the ambition of wining the Grant of Prague.
The Grant of Prague doesn’t replicate the number of creative scholarships that city halls in a number of European capitals make available for photographers – Paris, London, Barcelona, Berlin... but it consciously continues the over one hundred year old home-grown tradition which started when the architect Jan Krizenecky, the pioneer of Czech film, enthusiastic photographer and an employee of the Prague Magistrate, systematically documented the city in the years between 1902 and 1915. He recorded the image of Prague, which at the turn of the century was acquiring its present form, on several thousand negatives. Today these photographs represent an invaluable and irreplaceable testimony, and their significance is increasing with advancing time.