In Memory of Wil Riera (1982-2019)
adriana teresa letorney
May 22, 2020
I first met Wil in February 2016 through photo editor James Welford and Scott Thode, who at the time worked with the Visura Team. Wil had completed the photojournalism one-year program at The International Center of Photography in New York, where James and Scott taught. They knew him well and introduced us.
By March of the same year, Wil had joined Visura as a GUILD member, working directly with James Wellford, Scott Thode and me. He especially worked quite a bit with Scott Thode, who had been his teacher at ICP. Scott mentored and guided him throughout the years.
As I searched through our past communications, I realize the number of times I replied to Wil expressing how grateful I was for his kindness, passion, determination, and dedication. As a photojournalist and citizen of humanity, his commitment to the people of Venezuela, and in shedding light to the political and humanitarian crisis that was transpiring was exceptional. He was willing to do whatever it took, and always pushing to improve his craft with the hopes that through his work, the international media and audience would take interest in what was happening in Venezuela. There are so many emails, where he expressed concern or frustration about his work not being picked up fast enough by media outlets, not because of any egocentric need for recognition, but because what was happening in Venezuela was a humanitarian crisis. It pained him to see so many people struggling and he wanted to help through his work.
Wil went on to cover news and features as a regular contributor for BBC Mundo, Bloomberg News, and The Wall Street Journal, as well as working as a stringer for The Associated Press. His work on Venezuela went onto be featured in BBC, Stern Magazine, Al Jazeera, Vice Magazine, The New York Times, Time, Forbes, Washington Post, Folha de Sao Paulo (Brazil), among others.
On Sunday, May 27, 2018, Wil was admitted into a hospital while working in Venezuela. He underwent two emergency brain surgeries to correct a congenital disorder which causes a brain hemorrhage. He was in a medically induced coma, from which he woke up on October of last year. Since, he had been slowly recovering.
An amazing group of colleagues and friends led by Carlos Becerra and Marie Monteleone — an assignment photo editor at Bloomberg News — set up a GoFundMe campaign that raised over $50,000 to help relieve the costs of any medical care that was not immediately covered by insurance as well as for future rehab, treatments, and daily living expenses as he rehabilitated. The efforts were extraordinary and it brought to light a reality that hit very close to home as Wil was the sole caretaker for his family and that the funds would also help his parents to cover their basic needs.
On October 14, 2018—Wil wrote me a message. It was just the icon of a heart.
The icon was the beginning of several exchanges. I was so excited and happy to hear from him that I forgot to write in complete sentences, and simply answered with exclamation signs, and happy emojis filled with hearts and gratitude.
During these months, I learned of the extraordinary work that Carlos Becerra was doing to support Wil and his parents. I spoke with him several times, and his love and willingness to protect his friend was incredibly moving. At the time of this writing [Sunday, March 3, 2019] — I spoke to Carlos for a second today, and he is there with his family helping during this very difficult time. I just want to take a moment to thank Carlos for everything he did for Wil and his family, and our hearts are also with you during this difficult time.
The industry lost an exceptional young photographer and human being.
— Querido Wil, te recordaremos siempre con respecto, integridad, honor y mucho amor. Tu dedicación es ejemplo para todos. Gracias por confiar en Visura y en mí. Gracias. Fue un honor trabajar para tí y servirte a través de la plataforma de Visura. Gracias por sembrar una semilla en nuestra familia. Fue un honor.
— Dear Wil, we honor and thank you for your work, vision, and passion. I truly loved working with you, and I was honored to serve you through the Visura platform. Your work and vision will not be forgotten. I am giving you a lifetime membership so that your site is up and running. This is a small gesture but I hope it helps keep your memory and important work alive alongside the efforts of so many who will also honor your life and stories.
You were loved and respected by so many. During these months, I met incredible friends, who truly cared for you, one I'd like to mention is Gabriel Méndez. It was incredible to witness.
My condolences to Wil's family and everyone who loved and knew him.
Rest in peace.
Adriana Teresa Letorney and the Visura family
Freelance photographer from Venezuela.