Our Final Assignment

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.

The EGPAF end-of-project event. Windowless hotel conference rooms aren’t the best places for photography, but here’s one of the few photos I’m happy with.

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’s photos on display at the EGPAF event.

This was probably Jon’s favorite photo in the exhibition.

My favorite.

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.

The Time to Eliminate Pediatric AIDS is Now from EGPAF on Vimeo.

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.

Grace tells her inspiring story. This photo makes her look like the incredibly strong woman that she is.

If you’d like a closer look, here some of my favorite photos from yesterday’s exhibition.

©Jon Hrusa/EGPAF

©Jon Hrusa/EGPAF

©Jon Hrusa/EGPAF

©Jon Hrusa/EGPAF

©Jon Hrusa/EGPAF

©Jon Hrusa/EGPAF

©Jon Hrusa/EGPAF

©Jon Hrusa/EGPAF

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?

Previous Post Next Post

27 Comments

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough January 26, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    Thanks for sharing more about this project, Heather. Unfortunately, for me, a lot of these photos aren’t available. It might be my computer. I see “x’s” where most of them are. But the ones I can see are incredibly powerful.
    Hugs,
    Kathy

    • Reply 2summers January 26, 2012 at 9:17 pm

      Oh, thanks for telling me Kathy. Do you see the slideshow at the bottom? I think that might be what’s screwing things up.

    • Reply 2summers January 26, 2012 at 9:35 pm

      I think I fixed it but I had to remove the slideshow. So annoying.

  • Reply thirdeyemom January 26, 2012 at 11:58 pm

    Beautiful project and post. It is somewhat ironic that the project came to an end right now, after Jon’s death. His photos are unbelievably touching. They warm my heart. Do you still work with this organization? What was your role with them and how did it bring you to Africa? I thought you mentioned before that you were/are a photojournalist or maybe a writer for them. Funny how random things in life are like fate. How this job brought you to Africa to discover yourself and find the love of your life. I seriously believe in fate. I hope you can continue where Jon left off by capturing the beauty and pain of Africa and its people on film.

    • Reply 2summers January 27, 2012 at 9:36 am

      Thanks Nicole. I was a writer/editor for EGPAF and came here originally to document a fundraiser called AIDS Walk Africa. I was handling all the communications for the fundraiser, and Jon was the photographer. We realized right away that we make a great team.

      I’m not employed by EGPAF anymore but the organization is still a big part of my life.

  • Reply @injoburg January 27, 2012 at 1:25 am

    Wonderful post. Did you realise that Jon is reflected in the eyes of the girl in your favourite photo? That’s wonderful too.

    • Reply 2summers January 27, 2012 at 9:33 am

      Yes. I actually didn’t consciously notice that until I went to pick up the printed photos last week. I’m glad you noticed too.

      • Reply @injoburg January 29, 2012 at 7:37 pm

        In a way that makes all those photos of children self-portraits 🙂

  • Reply Debra Kolkka January 27, 2012 at 4:00 am

    Beautiful post. Let’s hope this wretched disease is wiped out soon.

  • Reply eremophila January 27, 2012 at 6:25 am

    Very poignant, I understand your tears, they are rolling down my face right now♥

  • Reply miadidthis January 27, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    Wow, thanks Heather. Do you realise your posts are filled with stories of hope. Thanks for that. Don’t ever underestimate the value of that.

  • Reply miadidthis January 27, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    Wow, thanks Heather. Do you realise your posts are filled with stories of hope. Thanks for that. Don’t ever underestimate the value of that.

  • Reply namrata January 27, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    beautiful post, heath….thanks for sharing

  • Reply namrata January 27, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    beautiful post, heath….thanks for sharing

  • Reply Slowvelder January 29, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    I am so glad there are folk like this doing such amazing work in the fight against HIV. I spent many years in the field of HIV/AIDS and things seem to have gone a bit quiet now? Maybe it’s just because I am so isolated from the news???
    That last photo on this post is just superb. Jon was an incredible artist.

    • Reply 2summers January 29, 2012 at 7:02 pm

      Thanks Jackie. The work continues, although funding has dried up a bit. And HIV/AIDS doesn’t make the news like it used to. Glad you like the photos 🙂

  • Reply Slowvelder January 29, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    I am so glad there are folk like this doing such amazing work in the fight against HIV. I spent many years in the field of HIV/AIDS and things seem to have gone a bit quiet now? Maybe it’s just because I am so isolated from the news???
    That last photo on this post is just superb. Jon was an incredible artist.

    • Reply 2summers January 29, 2012 at 7:02 pm

      Thanks Jackie. The work continues, although funding has dried up a bit. And HIV/AIDS doesn’t make the news like it used to. Glad you like the photos 🙂

    Leave a Reply

    %d bloggers like this: