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A Hopeful Vision:
The Photographs of Steve Simon
Steve Simon, a Canadian photographer of great talent, now lives in New York and has produced several photo books of his documentary essays. The most recent is Heroines & Heroes: Hope, HIV and Africa (Edizioni Charta, Milano: 2006). He works on the premise that as a photographer whose first love is to work on large projects he should take every opportunity that comes along. He doesn't immediately say to himself, "It's too small," because good work will find an outlet. When he believes in something, he follows through.
In 2002 the NGO "CARE" approached PhotoSensitive. The organization commissioned seven photographers to go to Zambia for one week and produce images concerning the AIDS epidemic. In an interview, the photographer said that Africa was not a place he had wanted to go but that going "to Zambia for that week in 2002 really left a powerful impression on me and I just wanted to add my voice to the journalists and artists that are focusing on the AIDS issue." After that Simon made more trips to Africa and worked in Ethiopia, Mozambique and Lesotho. When his publisher at Charta expressed an interest in publishing a book of the images, Simon took himself back to Africa for five weeks earlier this year.
Here is my description of his powerful book in a book review for News Photographer in September:
Steve Simon's latest book, Heroines & Heroes: Hope, HIV and Africa, balances human tragedy with hope in sub-Saharan Africa (this is most of Africa, 47 nations in total). Unlike many books about HIV/AIDS, it does not focus on unmitigated suffering, unheralded with no end in sight. Instead, Simon embraces the whole situation real people find themselves in and features both those who help the sick and those who work to prevent the disease's continuance. The book captures an intimate portrait of small villages with small clinics making a big difference. Above all this is a story of people's humanity.
It couldn't contrast more with his previous, also excellent, volume The Republicans, about the 2004 Republican Convention in New York City, by the same publisher. Here, presented in black and white (a worldview, perhaps?) is the highly choreographed convention. People taking pictures, pictures within pictures, gigantic media screens dwarfing individuals. In the back, neutral captions label each image: "Arnold fist--August 31, 2004," for instance. Inside the hall, theater; outside, messy real life demonstrations.
Texts are confined to one-page observations and back matter. Images are presented without captions, a sometimes irritating factor but here we are permitted to look and consider, allowing one photograph to comment on the next. Most are also presented without irony. There is one that stands in contrast to the others: a torn Christian crusade poster shows a smiling white minister promising not only to make the blind see but also to cure AIDS.
In the meticulous captions, every patient and all grandmothers have names. The captions also contain facts revealing the true devastation of HIV on the sub-Saharan population. We learn that young people, increasingly young women, are infected with HIV every 14 seconds. New infections account for nearly half of the new cases of HIV worldwide. Globally, there were 17.3 million women living with HIV in 2005 -- three quarters (or 13.2 million) were living in sub-Saharan Africa. And, around 72% (or 4.7 million) of all people in need of antiretroviral therapy live in sub-Saharan Africa.
The back matter also contains names of worldwide organizations, listed by type, fighting the epidemic. CARE, Save the Children, Youth Challenge International, Engineers Without borders (EWB) and the Power of Love Foundation appear, among others. Also included is a paragraph of description and contact numbers for each. In Heroines & Heroes, Simon reaches out to show us the humanity of people very much like ourselves and provides the resources through which we can help.
Steve Simon is an award-winning photographer. He received the Global Health Council Photography Award for his work on AIDS in Africa, the Canadian Newspaper Photographer of the Year and NPPA Picture of the Year prizes and an Alfred Eisenstaedt Magazine Photography Award, among many others. His solos exhibitions have appeared internationally and his work has been published in a variety of publications including (German) Geo, Life, Le Monde, Mother Jones and The New York Times. His Web site is www.stevesimonphoto.com.
© Marianne Fulton
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