the celebrated war photographer, will present an exhibition on AIDS
in Africa, with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan presiding, at New
York's United Nations headquarters on June 25:
Ive been coming to Africa for 40 years. I used to cover a lot
of wars and revolutions. You could say I always came to Africa for the
wrong reasons. This time (traveling with Christian Aid and supported
by the Kaiser Foundation), Ive come with the right purpose. I
think we have to stop ignoring whats happening with AIDS in Africa.
I would say to people at home, we cannot play the ostrich scenario any
more. We must respond to peoples needs - - otherwise it is a form
year, I sat in England and thought, What is the purpose of my life?
What really interests me now? Id been reading a lot of reports
about AIDS in Africa. I thought, I dont want to sit in England
looking at the beautiful landscape; I should be doing something. I dont
need to be any better known as a photographer. Ive published a
lot of books. Im not really looking for any profit here, and I
know I am not going to shift the earth, but Im damn well going
to try to make people take notice.
When I got to Africa, I found that its not just a story about
AIDS. Its a story about poverty. I thought, This is a totally
new ballgame. In a way, poverty is war. Its a disgrace; its
abominable. I found people sleeping in darkened rooms, lying on the
floor, not even in comfortable beds the way we would expect to be if
we were ill in a hospital bed. I found people who had no medication
whatsoever, no food, nothing, living in intolerable conditions. Its
just unacceptable in terms of humanity.
The most appalling thing about this journey was going into these homes
and never seeing any evidence of food. It disturbed me greatly. I thought,
What must it be like to wake up in the morning with several children
and say to yourself, where do I begin to find food for my family today?
One day, in Zambia, I went to a house where the door was shut. A knock
on the door, the door is opened, a man appears, hes wearing no
shoes, hes wearing socks with a toe protruding, there are two
anxious children, obviously his daughters. You can see they are moved
by their fathers condition. In fact, Id go as far to say
they are really afraid of their fathers condition. Obviously they
have seen their mother die and they are watching - - and clinging to
their last hope that their father doesnt die, although probably
deep down they realize he is going to die. There you have this trio
of people clinging to each other.
But at the same time, alongside the sadness, you see this enormous quality
of love. We joined home-based care volunteers, who visit people living
with AIDS in their neighborhoods. They led us through some lanes, singing,
We are going forward, we are not going backwards. And I
thought to myself, Where do you get this inspiration to think you are
going forward when you have nothing to offer the people you are going
to visit other than the spiritual love you are taking with you? And
you yourselves are only one step removed from this same situation. They
were very jolly, ready to laugh, they took life on. I was deeply moved
by these people. I thought to myself, If I were lying in one of these
darkened rooms, if I heard their singing coming towards me, at least
I would say, I hadnt been forgotten.
In terms of photojournalism, the AIDS issue has an enormous problem.
It has to appear in print. Yet its so visually unkind to the eye.
It infringes upon the comforts of magazines themselves because its
difficult for the business side to run advertising up against certain
serious stories, and AIDS is one of the most unattractive, powerful
and important visual stories on earth. AIDS is the biggest human story
on the globe at the moment. To give it prominence, we have to give it
public hearing. But magazines are showing intolerance now because theyre
saying, Well, weve done that. We did that last year.
The problem is, AIDS will go away from our imaginations if editors and
photographers and creative people dont constantly make it appear.
Its a kind of turn-off. The moment you mention AIDS to editors,
some of them, they get embarrassed. They are governed by their masters
who are in the magazine and newspaper business to make money. When the
word AIDS is mentioned, people look around to see if theres a
cup of coffee to be had or something to distract their attention from
you while youre talking.
By current estimates, by the year 2009, 15 million more Africans will
die. In a way, its a form of genocide by the Western world and
the drug companies by not showing responsibility to people who cant
afford to buy AIDS drugs. In terms of our Western money, it would cost
two dollars a day to keep a person with AIDS alive. Two bucks a day.
How can you deny someone a life for two dollars a day?