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Positive family

Joji Babu (left) and his wife Kumari (right) are both HIV positive and members of the Hope Arpana Positive People Effective Network in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, India. The HIV status of their 1-year old daughter Baby is still unknown. (See Special Instructions below.)

This image wraps up my month-long focus on HIV and AIDS, and I chose it because it shows the face of the epidemic: ordinary people. I was in India in 2010 and spent several days photographing HIV-related work for the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance around Chennai, including support groups, a church-sponsored clinic, and the daily lives of people living with the virus. Then I got on an overnight train with a Lutheran HIV worker and we went to Andhra Pradesh, where we spent a couple of days documenting the work of the Hope Arpana Positive People Effective Network in the area around Guntur. Located along a main trucking route, these communities were hard hit by HIV, but the Network is doing a great job of empowering people to fight back against stigma and discrimination, to lead full and positive lives, and to educate their neighbors in order to stop the spread of the virus.

Word got out that a photographer was going to be in the office of the Network one day, and dozens of people came to have their photographs taken. At first I resisted this, as I’d normally rather photograph people in their normal settings rather than do some sort of portrait work. But it turned out alright. For several hours, I had a line of people waiting, and I photographed them against a plain blank wall with side light from an open door. We had a lot of fun. There were some signs from a recent demonstration laying around the office, and I often had people hold one of them, in this case one that simply says “HIV/AIDS”.

This is Joji Babu and his wife Kumari, both of whom are HIV positive and members of the Network. They did not yet know the HIV status of their 1-year old daughter, Baby. (With antiretroviral drugs, the transmission of HIV from mother to child is being cut to almost zero—provided the drugs are available.) I like their relaxed and friendly nature. People living with HIV aren’t bad people. They are just like you and me. It’s just a disease.

A techy note: The photography here wasn’t difficult. The complicated part was the need, given the stigma attached to HIV status, for a signed release from anyone pictured and identified as living with the virus. So we had a release prepared, which we translated into Tamil for use around Chennai, and into Telugu for use in Andhra Pradesh. But the blank spaces were supposed to be filled in using English words. On this particular day one of the staff people of the Network filled out the forms, which we carefully numbered and took a reference photo of each subject holding their numbered form, thus insuring that I could match the release form with the right individual. This gets complicated when each person indicates in which media we can and cannot use their image. But it got even more complicated when part way through that day the person filling out the form started filling in the blanks in Telugu, with no English translation. And Telugu script ain’t the same as English. But I didn’t notice this until several weeks later when I was home in Oregon trying to caption the images and note in each embedded caption which particular uses were allowed by each subject. All of a sudden, I was looking at a sheaf of release forms that I couldn’t decipher. So I had to scan them, email them to Chennai, where the Lutheran staffer got on a train back to Andhra Pradesh to get new forms signed (or thumbprinted, if they’re illiterate) with English information included. They scanned these and emailed them back to me. Did somebody say photography was easy?

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