As the group of photographers sat on a stage at the annual Visa pour l’image festival in Perpignan, France on September 8, 2001, the mood was a little despondent. Photojournalism seemed to be on the wane, celebrity coverage was everywhere. But what they were about to reveal gave reason for hope. They were there to announce the formation of a small, independent photo collective – part traditional agency, part global network reliant on the web – to be based not in Paris, London or New York, but at seven separate laptops around the world - wherever they may be from Manhattan to Bali. The VII Photo Agency (pronounced ‘Seven’) was in business. And unbeknown to it yet, its first big test would come in three days time.
“We were inventing as we went along,” says the agency’s initial strategist, Gary Knight. “We paid the lawyer in prints. That week in Perpignan was the first time we had all met in the same room and had the opportunity to go through the business model together, face to face.” It was not a new idea but an existing one in a new age – a vote against the mainstream and its launch brought to mind that of Magnum Photos in 1947.
The story of how one of the seven photographers on the stage that day came to record events in New York three days later is just one of the many remarkable moments from the agency’s 20 year history documented in both words and pictures in Questions Without Answers: The World In Pictures By The Photographers Of VII.
As David Friend, Vanity Fair’s Editor of Creative Development and Life magazine’s director of photography during the 1990s says in his introduction to the book: “As the world changed, so the cliché goes, there was a corresponding change in the way we watched the world change. The modern camera, and its new promise of synchronized universal regard, have made combatants, governments and the world at large not only more accountable but accountable in the here and now.”
In our First Look Friday gallery above we've taken just a little from each of the categories covered in the book to give you a flavour of what you'll find inside. Click through it now and watch out for more stories and interviews with the photographers themselves in the coming weeks.