As VII Photo has yet to officially confirms who, of their VII Network members, have been offered full membership in the redefined photo agency, co-founder Gary Knight talks to BJP about the impact these changes will have for the future of VII.
OL: As a member of VII, what was the reasoning behind the decision to streamline the agency?
Gary Knight: Principally because the Networkers wanted more representation, it was really their initiative but it was also clear that some of the members felt that the dual system just didn't sit well - the staff felt it was confusing for clients and difficult to administer - it was unnecessary in the end. When we looked at the resources it would take to support more full members it was clear we didn't have the staff to take on that extra responsibility, we could not allocate more budget to hire more staff for - so to provide the kind of representation the Network wanted - ie the representation that comes with membership - meant that we were unable to take on everyone.
OL: How did the process of selecting the new members go?
Gary Knight: It was probably the hardest thing we ever had to do, no-one enjoyed it because we knew it would be heartbreaking for us and for the great people who we couldn't take on. We started on Tuesday and finished on Wednesday, we looked at their submissions - so the way they wanted to represent themselves, we looked at their personal websites and at their work on the VII site to make sure we missed nothing and to make sure that the people who struggled to edit their folios well weren't handicapped. We discussed all the great things many of them have brought to VII over the years, beyond photography.
OL: What was the criteria for rejecting former Network members? Did you look for a balance in the styles of photography?
Gary Knight: I don't want to debate semantics but we didn't approach this from the perspective of who to reject - it was more focused on who to include to balance the agency for the future, not just photographically but also in terms of other skills and abilities, productivity, experience and story choices for example.
OL: Now that VII has a bunch of new members and a new-found cohesion, what are the plans going forward? Will VII try to work more as a group or will it be business as usual?
Gary Knight: I think we have always worked as a group, don't you? It's interesting how different perceptions of VII are! You are probably referring to the fact that VII was based on the individual, you are quite right to note that - it remains stridently individualistic but from day one we stated clearly that we would come together as individuals to collaborate when we found the right idea. I have never run the stats but I can't think of another group of photographers who have produced more collective projects than we have in the last 10 years. We have 4 collective books and 6 or seven projects and have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for NGO's. We don't shout about what we do as much as others may but we are pretty effective at pulling things off.
Ed [Kashi] and I proposed a project for the new group yesterday called M2 (Square Mile) which will involve everyone photographing around a household within a mile of where they live over the next year, this will hopefully involve everyone but we'll see how easy it is to do a project with 20+ photographers..... I'll let you know in a year! I imagine we will do projects at a smaller scale generally.
OL: Would you be looking to add new staff members in the future to supplement the current ones?
Gary Knight: Yes, but in different areas to those we have staffed currently - I doubt in editorial resales. We have been interviewing recently for a project based person for example.
OL: In terms of the photographers that have been "let go", what will happen to them in the next few days? Will VII stop representing them right away?
Gary Knight: No way - we are not in the business of crucifixion. They are friends and we will represent them for the next three months (or less if they ask us to stop). We want to support them where we can, if that's what they want. We don't want to make this any more difficult than it already obviously is.
OL: There has been some criticism about how the changes have been communicated by the agency, with some members unaware that some of their former colleagues had not made the final cut. Can you explained what happened?
Gary Knight: They are photographers - of course they will be critical. If they thought for a moment about the process they probably wouldn't. Our duty was to inform the folks who didn't make it and make sure they had everything organised and that the communication was with their interests in mind as a priority. Their needs far outweighed the needs of the guys who made it to know who didn't. Why did they need to know? If they had made a call and reached someone who didn't make it before we did how would that have been? That's depressingly small minded to be honest with you...
OL: In the future, probably 2012 now, will VII look to expand by adding new members?
Gary Knight: Way too early to tell, Olivier.
OL: Have the changes proposed to the fee structure been implemented at the AGM?
Gary Knight: It takes a while to implement this stuff, best ask Stephen [Mayes] as I don't get involved in that anymore.
OL: What do you mean by that? I know that you've been a bit of on a sabbatical from photography lately, and I wondered what that means in terms of your activities at VII?
Gary Knight: I am not really sure how to answer the question - perhaps because there is no one answer. My photography has moved away from the media with which I have a rather ambiguous relationship but I think my engagement with the world through photography is probably greater now than it ever has been, but that said I am no longer interested in just photographing, it will remain an important means of inquiry and exploration but by no means the sole means.
I interact with VII in a variety of ways. As a photographer generating images for sale I am much less interesting than I ever was I am sure, but my relationship with VII and photography has never just been about photography. I am interested in photography and I am interested in VII but not because of what they are or represent but because they allow me to do other things that I am interested in, they are enablers, not the end game. Both have taken up a lot of my time over the years and both are very important to me, but I don't want either to consume me, there is much else that I need to think about. The role I seek at VII is one that allows me to interact with it when it is necessary and valuable for both of us, but I don't want to be engaged on a daily basis or engaged it with it to the degree that it creates too much white noise.
OL: Finally, what is, in your opinion, the impact of James Nachtwey's departure from the agency?
Gary Knight: Save that for another day! The only thing I will say about VII and its relationship with any of the photographers - this is not about Jim per se - is that the agency has a life of its own, its is bigger than the sum of its parts. No one likes friends leaving the agency under any circumstances but if we all left and were replaced by 23 other committed photographers VII would still be there.
VII Photo is expected to officially confirm who their new members are in the coming days. In the meantime, check BJP's full coverage for the latest reports on who's in and who's out at the agency.
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