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.
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.
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.
Last December I returned from helping to run the Haiti chapter of this international arts and advocacy project, in which HIV+ve participants photograph their lives. I teach photography and co-edit the work with the participants, alongside Gideon Mendel. This is the eighth city the project has worked in to challenge the stigma of HIV.
‘A woman without a donkey – is a donkey’ Ethiopian saying
There are 6.2 million working donkeys in Ethiopia. When they are fit and healthy they carry water to villages and goods to market. In both rural and urban areas they form the backbone of the local transport and haulage system and provide an income for the poorest families. If they become sick or injured then the work of carrying water and heavy loads to market will usually fall to women. The welfare of donkeys can be a matter of life and death.
Over the last year I’ve photographed patients and staff at Guy’s & St Thomas’, Charing Cross, Whipps Cross and Imperial College hospitals. Because of consent issues I can only reproduce photos of staff and not patients here.
Around the world—in half a dozen countries, on five continents—HIV-positive people open their lives and share their stories. Through their own photographs, in their own voices, they teach the importance of compassion and the power of living a positive life. I am the photo-educator on this project, working with photographer Gideon Mendel and a team from UCLA led by Professor David Gere.