Special to the Mirror
The birth of a baby to an HIV–positive mother. A newborn receiving its first dose of AZT. An AIDS Treatment Advocacy march in the township of Khayelitsha. Men socializing at a local Shabeen (bar). Portraits of family, friends, and neighbors. Shack life without electricity or running water. These and other extraordinary photographs tell a story of life in the impoverished townships of Cape Town, South Africa. They were taken not by professional photographers but, rather, by 15 South African women who are living with HIV. Their work comprises the exhibit The House is Small, But the Welcome is Big.
The seeds for The House is Small were planted several years ago when television producer and physician, Neal Baer, along with pioneering documentary photographer, Jim Hubbard, began discussing ways to raise awareness about global medical issues through photography. It seemed to both that Hubbard’s method of teaching traditionally marginalized people how to use the camera to document their own lives would prove an effective and powerful way to tell the stories of people managing serious health concerns on a daily basis.
In 2005, they began to develop their first project, focusing on women living with HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Their South African partner in the project was the highly-lauded Mothers’ Programmes, providing “moms and moms-to-be” with peer-based prevention, education, and treatment access services to help HIV-infected women live positively and to prevent mother-to-child transmission.
In February 2006, a crew of Venice Arts’ photographers, led by Hubbard, traveled to Cape Town to lead an intensive photo documentary program with the women. In a workshop format, the women learned the fundamentals of photography, with an emphasis on composition and visual storytelling. To help them understand the power and possibility of the personal documentary method, they were shown books of work by homeless and Native American youth affiliated with Hubbard’s Shooting Back program and by low–income and refugee youth involved at Venice Arts. Group meetings also offered an opportunity to review work–in–progress and share their lives. In addition to group meetings, photographers were assigned to closely mentor the women individually and in small groups, giving them hands–on, in–the–field training.
The result: A beautiful body of photography that gives a human face to the continuing global AIDS crisis and its impact on the lives of women and children. And, as an unanticipated result, two of the women, Funeka Nceke and Caroline Kompe, are now pursuing photography as a vocation with support from The Mothers’ Programmes.
Committed to raising awareness about HIV positive women in South Africa, the project leaders are working to provide maximum exposure to their photography through exhibitions, a book, and a video, being produced by a South African filmmaker who followed the project. The work will be exhibited during Spring 2006 in Los Angeles at the Track 16 Gallery and at the Venice Art Walk. An abstract has been submitted for the exhibit to be included at the International AIDS Conference in Toronto in August 2006, plans are being made for another Los Angeles exhibit in Fall 2006 connected to World AIDS Day and for a show in 2007 at the United Nations.