Saturday, December 01, 2007

"Nobody Ever Said AIDS."

I have been waiting quite a while to publish all of this; these photos, these stories, have a very special connection to World Aids Day for me. Not just as a result of content, dealing as they are with people affected in varying ways by HIV/AIDS, but in terms of form, the images... one in particular. This is not the first time I have posted the image above on my blog in reference to this day. In fact, I think it has gone up on December 1st every year that I have been blogging, on this site, the one before and the one before that. It has even appeared for the same reasons on SA History Online, and been published in academic texts released by that NGO. But, taken as it was in 1997, this is the first year that it has been published in a public forum usually associated with "photojournalism", the magazine: in Dazed & Confused Magazine, the Japanese edition of July/August. 10 years later.

I cannot explain how much this means to me; the shot shows a young boy watching his older brother (dying of full blown AIDS) being washed by Hospice nurses. One reason often given in the year it was taken for it not being published was that it was too "soft", too "documentary", why not "photograph the brother dying"... since then, thankfully, there are ethics committees in place to oversee and limit the standard Western (read "non-African") view of AIDS in South Africa and the rest of the continent, the "hit and run/spectre of death" aesthetic that sells sympathy all too easily. Or rather, sells pity and distance, a comforting sense of "us and them", another stigma to deal with. The irony, considering that the first reported case of AIDS in South Africa was in 1982 by a man who contracted the virus while in California... in the US. But enough of my politics.

The usage of this image in Dazed & Confused came about as a result of my friendship with Lee Kasumba, who had me work with her on this article; it was Lee's dogged determination that saw what might have been a standard piece turn into a stance on how AIDS is viewed and thought of in South Africa BY South Africans, and not those looking in from the "outside" - wherever that may be. I am immensely proud to have worked with Lee on this, and equally grateful to those South Africans I met during the course of the project, right up until it's eventual 16 page placing in the magazine... with the photograph I have struggled to see used finally run as a DPS introduction to it. Word from Japan is that Jefferson Hack was pleased with the article, and given issues expressed by Africans with the Vanity Fair Red issue (views I shared, and admirably, if not powerfully, put forward in the new South African magazine Empire) I feel we did something different.

This is my view as a photographer, of course... not an activist, not a writer, and not someone who has been that heavily affected by HIV/AIDS, other than what I have seen through my camera since 1997. But it is also my view as a South African, and I feel I need to thank Lee Kasumba for her spirit and D&C:Japan editor Junsuke Yamasaki for giving us the chance and the platform to at least present it... and especially to the people listed below (whose names are linked to the days they were photographed, along with the first English draft of their interviews with Lee... the final edits seem only to exist in Japanese at this point.)

Thanks for your time, and your trust. And those reading this... read their stories in particular, and take the time to learn something.

"Oooooh we!
Friday night sheebeen
Sis Thandeka’s kitchen
Singing loud and rich

To anyone who clapped

The men would sit around
Black label in one hand
Tapping to music
Climaxing in a dance
That was me

My heartbeat in the township
My sheeben
In my kitchen
Making people laugh
Making them get up on the floor
And swing their black hips about
No kaffirs there
Just proud black men
That was me

There were the girls
In rouge red glossy lips
Tight red dresses
Waiting for Jimmy
To buy us a drink
That was me

When we knew
That fear came from

A Boer face
Police raids
Rubber bullets
Fear was making love
That was me

And Jabu
All got sick
And skinny like broomsticks
They started coughing
And could couldn’t dance anymore
They held up their pants
With belts
And just drank and drank
Then they died of TB
In 1996?
Strong healthy men

Who worked in Jozi
And danced every Friday night
In Sis Thandeka heartbeat

Other men died too
Men in big cars

Living in Cape Town
Healthy men died of
Pneumonia, Flu, Cancer
Then the girls in their rouge red glossy lips
Died too
Painfully so,
With hollow eyes
And black spots on their faces
Shebeen queens died
The Boers died
The policemen died
The children were born dying
With black spots on their faces
Freddy Mercury died
Gay men died
Miners died
After they kissed the lips of Red berries
Nobody wanted to touch anymore
Whether black, white, Indian or coloured

Nobody was making love
That was them

I was
Making love to a new breed

Of Jimmy
And Jabu

Then, they died of TB too
Then I started coughing
Skinny like a broomstick
With black spots
On my face
My sisters’ children
Coughed and died
My brother coughed and died
I was coughing and dying
The enemy was in our bodies
Making us cough and die
Eating us out like worms
But some of us
Still made love
Still kissed
Still touched
And make each other cough and die

She died of TB
…She died from TB

That was me
Whispering it at Funerals
Because nobody ever said
We all died
Those who used to tap
With a black label in one hand

Those who used to sing
Like superstars
Whether we wore rouge red glossy lips
Where we wore khaki brown
And beat the kaffirs in the prisons
Whether our faces were covered with soot
From the mines
Even if we were old granny
With men living in Jozi
Even if we were just born

We all died
Coughed and died
We died of TB
That was us
Whispering it at funerals
Because nobody ever said (AIDS)" - Eddie Vulani Maluleke : Nobody Ever Said AIDS



Blogger aNaY said...

Wow Liam... I just arrived here from the blog of David Alan Harvey. And I'm sure I will stay "around" for a while because I do think your blog is really interesting! I still have a lot to read, a lot to see (great pictures!), but this post really touched me as I just started working for a similar project.

Good work, Liam. And with your permission... will visit you often! :-)


Blogger Liam Lynch said...

Thanka Ana... much appreciated... must warn you though, at times it becomes a personla, cryptic ramble.

Meant to reply earlier, but I lost track of the comment... like your blog, by the way. Have you only travelled up in the North/West of Africa?

Blogger aNaY said...

Well, mine is a big personal cryptic ramble.... Everything I write comes from a deep place inside me and not everybody can understand it... Just strange pieces of me writen with a poor english :D so I'm glad you like it ;) And yes, by now, only in Senegal. I'm going back there again in three weeks. I do want to see and live other places around Africa, specialy the south! Hmm maybe Africa will have to adopt me... ;)

Blogger Liam Lynch said...

Africa should trade... I have friends that are forever talking about Barcelona and Madrid (they are skateboarders...)


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