Portfolio: VII Agency


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The Independent Culture

When the VII photography collective was established in 2001, little could its members have known quite how timely was their alliance. For just three days later, two airplanes were flown into New York's World Trade Center – and an agency that had dedicated itself to documenting the impact of modern conflict was instantly in the thick of one of the greatest crises experienced by the West for many a year.

Members' work, however, is by no means limited to the Western world – and they have extended notions of conflict to subtler forms, encompassing humanitarian crises and catastrophic events. These range from the appalling conditions in Rio de Janeiro's Polinter prison, where 1,500 detainees were held in a space designed for 250, to the 45,000 people who were dying each month in the Democratic Republic of Congo as a result of the conflict between warlords and armed rebels for control of the country's natural resources. Many of the miners who Marcus Bleasdale captured extracting gold by hand were thought to be combatants – but had the safety net of neither a living wage nor medical care should injury occur, while their masters benefited from the booty.

To mark a decade in action, the agency has now collated more than 450 unflinching images from its photographers' archives from the past 20 years, in a volume that not only provides a compelling record of the age, from the end of the Cold War to the fall-out of Hurricane Katrina, but also questions our complicity, our disengaged acquiescence, in the world's most troubling dramas.

'Questions without Answers: The World in Pictures by the Photographers of VII' is published by Phaidon, priced £45