Yesterday I attended a special event for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF). The event celebrated the end of an eight-year project — called Project HEART — that provided HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment services in South Africa. I don’t want to go all technical on you and try to explain what Project HEART was. But if you’d like to learn more, visit this page on the EGPAF site. There’s a great video about Project HEART about halfway down the page.
I’ve been sitting in front of my computer for some time now, trying to formulate some coherent thoughts about what this event meant to me. I’m finding it really difficult. Let me try to break it down.
1) I worked for EGPAF for many years, and I’m passionate about HIV/AIDS issues.
2) I ‘found myself’ through my work with EGPAF. If I hadn’t stumbled into a job there (thank you, Jennifer Morgan Gray), I probably never would have come to Africa, and I never would have met Jon.
3) Even though Jon is gone from this world, yesterday was filled with reminders of him and his powerful work.
A few months ago, Jon and I attended an EGPAF community celebration in North West province. You may remember my blog post about it. Several of the photos that Jon took that day were on display at yesterday’s event.
Jon and I began working together on this exhibition several months ago. I was actually coordinating the printing and mounting of the photos during the week that Jon died. (By the way, thank you to Derek and Darren at Martin Gibbs for keeping the exhibition on track when I wasn’t able to. You guys rock.)
Jon’s pictures were in the reports and brochures handed out at yesterday’s event, and in the PowerPoint slides used by the EGPAF presenters. There were EGPAF staff members there who knew Jon longer than I did. Jon shot his first assignment for EGPAF in 2004 — the same year that Project HEART began. Jon was the first photographer to put a face on EGPAF’s work in Africa.
When the event program actually began, the first thing we did was watch EGPAF’s ‘identity video’ — a short film telling the story of who Elizabeth Glaser was, how the Foundation began, and the work it does today. I’ve seen this video hundreds of times, but probably not for a year or so. I cried and cried as I watched it yesterday, for so many reasons. Today, I keep watching it over and over.
Please watch if you have five minutes to spare. It’s an incredible video, and many of the photos used in it are Jon’s.
During yesterday’s event, a woman named Grace stood up to share her experiences living as an HIV-positive mother in South Africa. Thanks to EGPAF and Project HEART, Grace received the counseling and treatment she needed to give birth to an HIV-negative child. Her son, who was sitting in the front row when Grace spoke, is three years old and healthy.
I took a photo of Grace, and when I looked at it this morning I laughed inside. Jon always hated taking photos of ‘talking heads’ (i.e., people standing at podiums not doing anything interesting). When he was forced to do it, he liked to photograph the talking heads from stange angles, to make the photos more interesting. It used to drive me crazy when I worked for EGPAF, because I was always looking for head-on shots of people’s faces to use on the website.
And now I’ve gone and done the same thing, without even realizing it.
If you’d like a closer look, here some of my favorite photos from yesterday’s exhibition.
It’s a tragedy that Jon wasn’t with me at that event. He should have been there, fidgeting in his seat and complaining to me in an inappropriately loud whisper that he was bored and wanted a Coke.
But you know…I think maybe he really was there, somewhere, somehow. Why else did I shoot that talking head the way I did?