Twice a day, the Thames rises many metres to fill secret, enclosed spaces in central London.
Cameras and stereo microphones, held under wharves, jetties and office-blocks, recorded four distinct audio films. Starting slowly, the water rises inexorably to take and drown each camera in the confined space of its man-made, built environment; stereo sounds of traffic, birds, humans and boat-wash are replaced by burbling inundation and the buzz of propellers. The films are not ‘in synch’; the chaos of their rhythms means nobody walks into the same exhibition twice…
Yvonne’s family live without piped water or sanitation but they own three Smartphones, one tablet, a laptop and a TV. Far from being luxuries these devices are likely to be their way out of poverty. Her two oldest daughters are very clever and technologically able.
Photos by Yvonne
Yvonne works at the Gugu Dlemini AIDS Foundation. She says:
It took me a long time to come out of that shell that made me less confident, but eventually I thought to myself that it was something I had to do. In my community many people suffer from these situations. It’s also because we are less educated, so we see no reason, or feel ashamed to speak about these kinds of things. We still live in a community that is dominated by men, making women feel less adequate.
Photos by Yvonne
As a woman this also affects me. I am also HIV positive, and I am deaf too. This has brought a lot of misunderstandings and difficulties for myself and other people. People find it hard to communicate with me. Some people think that there is something wrong with me. I misinterpret what they are saying. This causes me to distance myself from people. It has also caused problems with my relationships with men in my life as they take advantage of me.
Thulile, Simiso and Jennifer are currently presenting their work at the Durban Art Gallery as part of the Through Positive Eyes show, coinciding with the International AIDS Conference. The show has been designed by Stan Pressner and Carol Brown to enable the participants to tell their stories and interact with projections of their work.
Here is an extract from Thulile’s story:
‘I have been living with HIV for 25 years, I was born with it.
As a kid they told me I would not live past 7. When I lived past 7 years old they told me I wouldn’t live past 10….
When my neighbors found out, they stigmatized me.
I discovered I could do things to help myself. I am strong. I am beautiful. I am a positive woman. I won’t let anyone discriminate me. I have survived.
When I don’t feel well I talk to my virus. I say ‘don’t misbehave! If I get sick you won’t have anyplace to live.’ I must love myself and be positive to myself. I am a hero. We are all human, we all need love. We are strong. We are beautiful. We are positive.
Elizabeth is currently presenting her work at the Durban Art Gallery as part of the Through Positive Eyes show, coinciding with the International AIDS Conference. The show has been designed by Stan Pressner to enable the participants to tell their stories and interact with projections of their work.
Here is an extract from Elizabeth’s story:
‘Hello, I’m Elizabeth. I was diagnosed HIV+ in 2008.
At birth I was taken away from my mother, she was mentally unstable. I grew up in the Homes. I had fun growing up with my age group, with only one or two housemothers we had lots of freedom to interact and live.
As time went on I was put in a foster home. I was abused badly at this place. It was a difficult time for me, the hardest time in my life. I felt like my childhood was taken away from me.
All photos by Elizabeth
I spoke up and eventually was removed from this home.
In 2008 I found out I was HIV+. I actually had many friends around me who were positive. I asked them questions and I’ve learned to live with it.
I moved on. I continued to use alcohol and drugs. I had two children. The first I gave up for adoption. The second, I decided to keep. The day the doctor put her in my arms, I fell in love.
New Year’s day last year, I decided to change my way. I’d been going around and around in circles. I want to find myself. I decided I wanted to pull myself together.
I’ve decided to come out about it all, especially living with HIV. Now I want to encourage young girls to love themselves, to trust themselves, to speak up….’
I’m just back from working on the final chapter of this international arts and advocacy project, in which HIV+ve participants photograph their lives to combat stigma.
I teach photography, and co-edit the work with the participants, alongside Gideon Mendel and Prof. David Gere’s team from the Art and Global Health Centre at UCLA.
A major exhibition featuring work from all ten cities has just opened in Durban to coincide with the 21st International AIDS Conference, which begins on the 18th July. The HIV+ve photographers will work as guides and speakers at the show.
I’ll post work from the Durban group during the conference, starting with Silungile.
Silungile is a sangoma or traditional healer as well as an educator, HIV activist and grandmother. Here are a selection of her photographs.
This mysterious photograph of the Calais ‘Jungle’ is the work of 18 year-old Esyas (his name has been changed), an artist from Eritrea. He is taking part in the Displaces photo project set up by Prof. Corinne Squire.
I’ve been working alongside Gideon Mendel, teaching photography and editing the results of a two day workshop. We’ve left cameras with refugees to document their lives in the camp. I’ll post more images as the project progresses.
Esyas’ photograph conveys the atmosphere of this place which is not a place. A landfill site full of people, now partially bulldozed back into the ground. There is a stark simplicity to the landscape which makes it feel like an allegory: the camp, the fence, the road, the police, and the bulldozers. Yet everywhere there is a flickering of different lives and cultures: the scraps of possessions burnt or ploughed into the earth, the Eritrean church, the mosque, the library, the cafes and the figures playing football or just staring at the horizon.
Much architectural photography has an arid and ghostly or post apocalyptic feel. The buildings are presented without people, in creepily perfect weather and light, as though they subsist for and of themselves. We are hard-wired to respond to faces; the moment one appears in a photo the building recedes and becomes the setting for a particular human drama. If and when they do appear, most people in architectural photos are faceless figures performing unremarkable and predictable functions serving the building, rather than vice-versa.
In discussion with Niall we decided to try and photograph the flats with the residents in situ. A housing block is nothing without its inhabitants, and this elegantly low-key, unpretentious building is designed around their lives and needs. Unlike boutique designs for wealthy clients, these flats must adapt themselves to a wide range of cultures, tastes, religions and cuisines. They concentrate on getting the fundamentals right: light, space, movement, air, sleep and so on.
I have tried to show the residents using the depth of the space, sometimes looking out of the frame, to make us consider the rooms’ shapes and limits. I want the viewer to see them as individual people, using and enjoying the architecture rather than just being in it.
Itinerant donkey owners working in Gujarat’s brick kilns spend 24 hours a day with their donkeys. They live, work, play and abide together. The donkeys’ welfare is entirely in the people’s hands. So who are they, and how do they live alongside their animals? I hope these photographs from MA Ambapur kiln near Ahmedabad will help show how these two societies live together.
Seven people go into a room and eight people come out.
Anaesthetists don’t just work with unconscious patients. This expectant mother is being guided through a magic trick. Sitting beside her, the anaesthetist asks questions, tells her what is happening, and what she can expect to feel and hear. His team help bridge the gap between her emotions, and what is happening to her numbed body.
From my own experiences, I’m aware of the intimacy and vulnerability in handing yourself over completely into the care of someone else.
Everyone remembers having a general anaesthetic. They won’t remember the operation; but they’re likely to tell their friends all about the process of slipping into unconsciousness. The anaesthetist is their guide and protector into and out of this netherworld. For the clinicians the process is routine, yet the anaesthetists and nurses I photographed were always aware of the importance of this moment to the patient. They used charm, humour, calmness, eye contact and a genuine interest in the patient to help them navigate what is at the very least a disorienting experience.
Consciousness is a tricky subject, debated by philosophers and scientists for hundreds of years. But anaesthetists turn it on and off and otherwise manipulate it every day. Photographing people losing consciousness is an odd thing. Like a benign and reversible death. One moment they’re there talking as I snap away and the next minute they’re absent, yet still the centre of attention. They are there and not there.
My commission for the Royal College of Anaesthetists took me to hospitals around the country to photograph all aspects of anaesthesia.
I’ll cover other aspects of this extraordinary profession in future posts.
I’m delighted to see a photograph from Unquiet Thames on the cover of Sarah Maguire’s selected poems. Due for publication on Aug. 20th this year; I’ll look forward to reading her tactile, imagist poems again.
Last March this international arts and advocacy project, in which HIV+ve participants photograph their lives, came to London. I teach photography and co-edit the work with the participants, alongside Gideon Mendel and Prof. David Gere’s team from UCLA. This is the ninth city the project has worked in to challenge the stigma of HIV.
Each participant produced a sequence of ten images which will be appearing on the project website: http://throughpositiveeyes.org/ Meanwhile, here’s a sample to be going on with.
Itinerant brick kiln workers use WhatsApp to stay in touch.
Donkey owner-drivers working in the brick kilns of Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh are paid every Friday, but receive a lump sum payment at the end of the brick-making season. This allows them to buy Indian-made smartphones costing about 5,000 Rupees each.
Most donkey owners are itinerant and may be away from their home villages for many months at a time. The phones allow them to stay in touch, both with family members, and friends working in other kilns. They’re also a status symbol for the young. Using WhatsApp is cheap and may be a spur to literacy for a largely unschooled workforce.
Madhupur Village near Agra, Uttar Pradesh. Virat (13) who likes to be known as ‘Brad’ with his smartphone. He good-naturedly photographs every move the UK photographer makes.