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Desmond Lim
Saturday, Jul 12, 2014

Singapore

Home-grown photographer in VII

The Straits Times | Desmond Lim | Saturday, Jul 12, 2014

At just 1.52m tall, Sim Chi Yin is petite by any standards. But the 35-year-old photojournalist will now stand shoulder to shoulder with the giants of the photo world.

Sim is the first Singaporean and Asian to join the ranks of the exclusive VII photo agency this month first as an interim member, then with full membership on the cards, subject to voting by other members, two years later.

The VII photo agency, so named because of the number of its founding members, was established in 2001.

The founding members are famed photographers Ron Haviv, Gary Knight, Antonin Kratochvil, Christopher Morris, John Stanmeyer, James Nachtwey and the late Alexandra Boulat.

Though new members have joined and others have left over the years, the agency, with 21 members now, remains one of the most recognised in the world.

Based in Beijing for the past seven years, Sim got the phone call informing her of the news from her mentor and VII photographer Marcus Bleasdale on a Saturday night about three weeks ago.

She said: "I answered and he said, 'Congrats, you're in - if you want it'."

It was good news but the gravity of those seven simple words soon bore down on the photographer.

"It's a great honour to be in an agency with living legends in the field, with photographers whose life's work sit on my bookshelves."

"I'm excited and, at the same time, a little scared. I'm still growing in my craft and have a lot to do to work at the top of the league," adds Sim, who has been in the VII mentor programme for the last three years. It is a professional development programme where senior VII members handpick and mentor emerging talents.

VII photographer Ed Kashi says via e-mail that he is excited at having the Singaporean in the cooperative and calls her "a hard worker, great journalist, team player, smart and good person".

A history and international relations graduate from the London School of Economics and Political Science, Sim is a former Singapore Press Holdings scholar and Beijing correspondent at The Straits Times.

In 2010, she quit her reporting job to return to what she calls her "long-neglected mistress" - documentary photography.

In the few short years since becoming a freelance photographer, she has muscled her way to international recognition in the competitive world of photojournalism.

Sim was a finalist for the W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography last year. She was among the Photo District News' (PDN) top 30 emerging photographers last year and on British Journal of Photography's Ones To Watch list of photographers this year. Her works have been exhibited in New York, Cambodia and Oslo.

She now regularly shoots commissioned works for major publications such as The New York Times, Time magazine and Le Monde.

While based in Beijing, she also takes up assignments outside of China.

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