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Ukraine: Photo Art Helps Fighting AIDS

On the occasion of the World AIDS Day (November –December, 2011) a photo exhibition of the project “AIDS- Open Faces” took place in ‘Lavra’ gallery in Kiev. The exhibition was devoted to people whose life was affected by HIV/AIDS and it was organized by the private charity Elena Pinchuk AINTIAIDS Foundation. The pictures of HIV positive people and their families presented on the exhibition had been taken by a well-known photographer Brent Stirton from New York agency ‘Getty Images’.

The images shown at the exhibition (available online) are fascinating and many of them are not easy to look at. Brent Stirton together with the activists of the foundation and other partner NGOs traveled all over Ukraine and filmed street children in Odessa, gypsy settlements, families with HIV positive children and HIV positive orphans, injection drug users, prostitutes and imprisoned people, reported the web-site of AITIAIDS Foundation. The project contains pictures of very sick people as well as ‘stories with happy end’ – images of people whose lives were saved with the antiretroviral therapy which is currently available in Ukraine thanks to international support or images of people who stopped using drugs or images of HIV positive orphans who found new families.

It was the second time when Brent Stirton came to Ukraine to film people affected by HIV. The first time was in 2005. In his video appeal Stirton compares the impressions from his first and second photo shootings.

A journalist and a blogger Olga Ivanenko who helped Brent Stirton to organize the filming in Ukraine both in 2005 and 2011 shared her reminiscence of work on the project in her blog. She wrote:

В 2005 году я принимала участие в проекте – помогала иностранному фотографу в его работе над документальным фотопроектом о проблеме ВИЧ/СПИДа в Украине. Несмотря на многочисленные ограничения в использовании снимков, фотографии Брента Стиртона до сих пор “живут” в сети своей жизнью. Они достаточно спорны и провокативны, они – “на грани”, и потому вызывают ожесточенные дискуссии и споры.

В этом году Брент Стиртон приехал в Украину снова и отснял еще одну документальную серию об проблеме ВИЧ/СПИДа в Украине. Мы встретили некоторых “героев” первой серии. Встреча с одними радовала – они смогли начать новую жизнь, нашли поддержку, получают антиретровирусную терапию. Встреча с другими огорчила – они не изменили своих привычек, постарели (хотя это странно звучит, когда говоришь о 25-30 летних). Некоторых уже нет в живых. Как и шесть лет назад, мы также встретили невероятных людей. Когда у них диагностировали ВИЧ, от них отворачивались близкие и друзья, их увольняли с работы, им угрожали… Но они выстояли. Доказали себе и другим, что они сильные, и что жизнь продолжается. Хотя теперь она зависит от строгого графика приема лекарств. А также, к сожалению, от того, провело ли государство очередной тендер по закупке лекарств для АРВ терапии…

In 2005 I took part in a project – I helped one foreign photographer in his work on the documentary photo project on HIV/AIDS issues in Ukraine. Despite many limitations on use of the images, Brent Stirton’s pictures still ‘live their own live’ in the net. They are fairly disputable and provocative, they are on a margin that is why they are argued and discussed so much.

This year Brent Stirton came to Ukraine again and filmed one more documentary series on HIV/AIDS in Ukraine. We met with some of the ‘heros’ of the previous photo shooting.  It was a pleasure to meet some of them – they had been able to start a new life, found a support, started receiving antiretroviral treatment. Meetings with the other were upsetting – they had not changed their life habits, they get aged (it sounds strange when you use this word talking about people of 25-30). Some of them have passed away. As six year ago we met fascinating people. When they were diagnosed with HIV they were turned down by their relatives and friends, they were fired from their jobs, threatened… But they had survived. They have proved to themselves and to others that they are strong and life continues. However they life now is depends on strict schedule of taking the drugs. And, unfortunately, on the question whether the government completed a new tender to purchase the antiretroviral medicines.

Olga noted that the participation in the photo project completely changed her stereotypes about HIV positive people. She posted:

Некоторые из героев сюжетов переворачивают представление о тех, кого принято считать “опустившимися”. Как бы низко ни пал человек, многие все же способны сохранить человечность – ухаживать за парализованной матерью, переживать за свою жену и ребенка и делать все, чтобы защищить их после своей смерти…

Some of the heroes of story completely turn over my notion of those who considered being degraded. Does not matter how descended people are, many of them can still stay  human – to take care about paralyzed mother or worry about their wives and children and to do everything to protect them after they pass away.

Olga thinks that the main task of the project is to make the society to think about the people affected by HIV/AIDS.  She wrote:

Вторая серия – не менее провокационна и спорна. Она тоже вызовет бурю дискуссий о людях, живущих с ВИЧ, и о том, нужно ли это все показывать. Дискуссии – это хорошо. Мы все, причастные к созданию этого документального проекта, считаем, что это часть нашей жизни и об этом нужно говорить. Нельзя просто закрыть глаза и сказать “я этого не вижу, значит этого не существует”. Если это заставит задуматься и что-то изменить в своей жизни хотя бы одного человека, значит время и усилия были потрачены не зря.

The second part of the project is not less provocative or disputable. It also initiates a storm of discussions about people living with HIV and about whether it worth to be shown. Discussion is a good thing. All of us, involved in the project, believe that this is a part of our life and it should be talked about.  You cannot just close the eyes and say “I do not see this, so it does not exists”. If this make to think and to change something in his life at list one people, than all the time and efforts were spent not for nothing.

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