A decade ago, seven of the world’s leading photojournalists banded together to form VII Photo Agency. The concept was first hashed out around John Stanmeyer’s kitchen table in a small fishing village an hour outside Hong Kong in 2000.
The photographic climate at the time was challenging, with corporations buying, managing and distributing images.
“I didn’t think anything was evil or wrong with it, but a number of us, myself included, very much didn’t want to be apart of that. I wanted to know where my pictures were being published, who the client was,” Stanmeyer said.
The photojournalist and a longtime friend, Gary Knight, asked the question: “If you wanted to start an agency, who would you call?”
They talked about all the great photographers with whom they had traveled the world, covering conflicts.
The two eventually included fellow photographers Ron Haviv, Antonin Kratochvil, Alexandra Boulat, Christopher Morris and James Nachtwey, and VII was born.
Their book, “Questions without Answers: The World in Pictures by the Photographers of VII,” will be released by Phaidon on May 1. It is one of eight books to be released by the agency this year.
“In the beginning, we were looked at as this elite group of people, and we weren’t elitist whatsoever,” Stanmeyer said. Drawing on their experience working with different entities and agencies, the group blossomed. Last year, VII expanded its membership to 23 photographers, but Stanmeyer doesn’t expect it to grow too large.
“We are able to be nimble and adapt quickly to the changing environment, and if you are very big, it’s hard to make those changes,” he said.
From the beginning, the agency used new technology to distribute and market its images.
“We did use this thing called the Internet that now we use constantly,” Stanmeyer said. “We were using it in its infancy, when these abilities were just being harnessed.”
Much like the photographic climate in 2000, challenges and changes seem to threaten the livelihood of professional photojournalists - this time by the growth of citizen journalism. But Stanmeyer sees things differently.
“No one photographer can change the world. … But if all of us work together, we are turning a giant wheel to try to make change for those who can’t. If citizens are doing that and joining us to turn the wheel, more power to it.”
Stanmeyer sees a bright future for VII and for photojournalism in general, because regardless of changes in technology and in the marketplace, the fundamental mission of photojournalism remains unchanged, he said.
“There will always be the power of the still image. Photojournalism is about storytelling.”
- Robert W. Johnson, CNN