I arrived in Barcelona a week ago filled with cautious anticipation for VII Photo’s 15th annual general meeting. These meetings are often fraught with difficult decisions. But they can also contain inspiring moments of joy and camaraderie which reconfirm my conviction for the VII collective as well as affection for my colleagues, no matter how frustrating the meetings can be at times. We’ve been through a tumultuous period in the past few years, with dear friends and valuable members leaving while also traversing the disrupted waters of the photography industry. Despite this, I had a sense that if things went well, this meeting would result in a dramatic and positive announcement.
Our first day began with near-disaster when my dear friend and colleague Sim Chi Yin went out for a bike ride with Tomas Van Houtryve. She crashed hard into the gravel road while coming down an uneven hill near the house we had rented. What began as a beautiful day, folks going running, biking, lounging, doing the digital dance, quickly turned dark. Our hearts sank and our attentions went straight to Chi Yin’s situation. The photos by Stefano De Luigi, made as we arrived on the crash scene, reflect what he and I came upon as we raced to help.
Bruised and concussed, Chi Yin had to spend the first two days of our AGM in the hospital. Thankfully, she was eventually released to rejoin us to finish what turned into an inspiring and encouraging meeting for our agency. It was lovely to see the care and warmth between many of us, especially around Chi Yin, with different members of the agency taking it in turns to dress her wounds and monitor her for symptoms of concussion.
Given the self-flagellation we give ourselves for the lack of women in the agency, it was especially poignant to have the one female member who was able to make it to Barcelona get hurt. For those who care, rest assured changes are afoot on this one issue. We had animated discussions about how we need to expand our membership to include more women, but equally important is that we need to improve our ethnic, racial and geographic diversity. We all wish it was as easy as waving our hands, but this will take time and careful preparation, of which we have already begun to do. At the moment what is most important is Chi Yin is tough as hell and doing great. She may looked bruised for a couple more weeks, but her spirit and strength are undiminished. She was also voted in as a full member of the VII Photo Agency, which was one of the important pieces of news that came out of our meeting.
Another important development is that Andy Patrick, a brilliant entrepreneur, old friend, soulful supporter of documentary photography and irrepressible dreamer, has joined VII Photo to become our new CEO.
Andy will be able to bring his business acumen, along with his amazing entrepreneurial spirit, business contacts and zeal for documentary photography to bear on VII. We are very excited at the prospect of working with Andy to propel VII into the latter stages of its adolescence. VII has been at the cutting edge of this industry since its inception in 2001, and we are confident that Andy will provide the guidance to keep that kind of development going.
The second half of VII Photo’s time in Barcelona was dedicated to a series of workshops and classes. VII All At Once Visual Storytelling Workshops, a new collaboration between VII Photo and Eyes in Progress , consisted of lectures, portfolio reviews and workshops. It was four days of intense interactions, sharing of experiences, mutual learning and some great work participants. Many of those who attended said they were drawn to how rare it was for all the VII photographers to teach together, bringing to bear the breadth and diversity of the collective’s work today. What follows are photos taken of the workshop process by two of the workshop attendees: David Carlier and Angel Carbonell.
One of the students, a French photographer by the name of Florent Dubray, said something to me that really made me think: “find personal projects that are an echo on your life.” Given all the talk about personal projects, finding your passion, confronting your fears and designing a path forward in this disrupted profession, his statement hit me deep. I often consider my personal projects to be based on issues out in the world that touch me in some way, whether because they stir feelings of anger, curiosity, hope, social injustice or political inequity. These are the sources of passion that have captured my mind, heart and gut. I hadn’t considered that one of the main catalysts for doing work might simply be that a project reflects something in my own experience that resonates. While I have chosen to do personal projects on faraway issues in faraway places, like The Kurds’ struggles for a homeland, or the impact of oil in the Niger Delta, I’ve also done deeply fulfilling and powerful work in my own home on the issue of aging, or more locally looking at stories about teens and family, all issues that reflect my personal experiences, sometimes simultaneously.
I left Barcelona fatigued from the weight of the actions and activities of the past week, yet with a heart filled by the students who gave so much. I trust they also took away an equal measure of valuable insights, information and passion to build their work and lives on. Until the next time, thanks to those who came to Barcelona and onwards to my mates!
Tomas Van Houtryve created a great video, ‘The Sinful VII,’ that was joyful to produce and take part in, but more importantly reminded us of our inner children. Sometimes it’s healthy to not take one’s self so seriously. You should check it out! → https://youtu.be/ZhzO3yLh7mI ←