Venice Arts has conducted photography workshops in neighborhoods all across the United States, and next week it will send a team halfway around the world to Khayelitsha, an impoverished township in Cape Town, to teach a group of 15 HIV–infected mothers and children how to use cameras so they can tell they stories about living with AIDS. The women want to chronicle both their struggles and their joys in the hope that their photographs will raise awareness and help erode the stigma of living with AIDS.The pictures they shoot may range from their lives at home – whether barren shacks or farm worker housing—to their other–to–mother support groups and child births. This African odyssey began a few years ago when television producer/writer Neal Baer and photographer Jim Hubbard brainstormed about ways to use their skills and resources to raise awareness of a variety of health–related issues through photography exhibits and books. Baer, executive producer of “Law and Order: SVU” and previously a writer/producer on “ER,” is also a physician; Pulitzer–prize nominee Hubbard, Venice Arts’ creative director, is a pioneer in the field of subject–produced documentary photography, and creator of, “Shooting Back,” a photography project with homeless and Native American children. Baer’s agents, Paradigm, Dick Wolf’s Wolf Films, and the Kaiser Family Foundation, are underwriting the Africa project. Baer and a team from Venice Arts will depart for Cape Town in early February to work with women at the, much–lauded Mothers’ Programmes, which first lady Laura Bush visited on her recent African visit. The Mothers’ Programmes provides peer-based AIDS education and clinical programs for HIV infected women across 60 sites in five provinces of South Africa. Most of the women at their Cape Town clinics hail from the Eastern Cape and reside in Cape Town’s impoverished townships. Many have chosen to fight the stigma associated with HIV disease by “coming out” about their illness, and to educate and support pregnant women and to prevent mother–to–child transmission. South Africa is the epicenter of the worldwide AIDS epidemic. According to the Mothers Programmes, “Each year one million babies are born in South Africa and more than 250,000 of them are born to mothers who are living with HIV. Without treatment, over 25 percent of these mothers will transmit the virus to their newborns—accounting for nearly 70,000 children born each year with the virus that causes AIDS.”In addition, according to United Nations estimates, HIV disease has orphaned an another 660,000 South African children.Lynn Warshafsky, co–founder of Venice Arts, said that it has been bringing photography, film, and digital arts programs to a variety of communities for 13 years—in greater Los Angeles, in rural communities in America’s southern states, and in Detroit’s inner city. Venice Arts also took a group of young photographers to Durban, South Africa to document the U.N.’s World Conference Against Racism. More recently, Venice Arts completed a project with West Hollywood’s Russian immigrant youth. In addition, the staff and volunteer artists at Venice Arts provide arts–based gang prevention programs to youth living in Mar Vista Gardens housing project, Venice, and the Pico neighborhood of Santa Monica.Speaking of the Africa project, Warshafsky said, “Neal Baer, Jim Hubbard and the rest of the Venice Arts team are eminently qualified to teach photo–documentary methods to women at The Mothers Programmes. We think they will create a very powerful, multi–dimensional visual story that will raise awareness—both in Cape Town and in the U.S.—about the continuing, international story of living with AIDS.” A team of five photographers and writers will depart on February 8, for Cape Town. An exhibit of the photographs will premiere in the United States at the Venice Family Clinic’s annual Art Walk in May, and will then travel to several other venues. A book featuring the photographs with an introduction by Baer is also in the works, along with an accompanying video of the project.
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