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Anna Boyiazis

AIDS Orphans In Sub-Saharan Africa

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By 2010, sub-Saharan Africa will be home to an estimated 20 million orphaned children. Because of HIV/AIDS, the number of AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa is spiraling upward—increasing exponentially—rather than declining. In Uganda, where half the population is under 15, the number of orphans is projected to rise, as parents already infected continue to die from the disease. According to UNICEF, “The staggering number of African children already orphaned due to AIDS is only the beginning of a crisis of gargantuan proportions… the worst is yet to come.”

It is in response to these statistics that in 2006, I traveled to remote villages in Uganda and began documenting families whose lives have been touched by HIV/AIDS. It is these AIDS orphans who have left an indelible impression upon my heart. Bearing witness to their struggle to survive, I feel accountable to them. That said, it would have been impossible to see what I have seen and walk away—I wholeheartedly feel as though I was introduced to these children for a reason, and am overwhelmed by the feeling that I was born to tell their stories.

My work in 2008/09 has centered around one family who live in a remote rural village in the Rakai district of Uganda, the original epicenter of the AIDS pandemic. The family consists of eleven children, five of whom are AIDS orphans.

Here, I introduce to you Lydia, Molly, Nasta, Hallen, Scovia, James, Eddie, Dennis, Jackie, Agnes, Elliott and friends, brave souls who have allowed me to step into their hearts and lives.

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Anna Boyiazis


Editor’s Note: Please only one comment per person under this essay.. Further discussions should take place under Dialogue..

Many thanks… david alan harvey

42 thoughts on “anna boyiazis – aids orphans in sub-saharan africa”

  1. You know, the photos are technically good. But they say nothing about AIDS, and could have been taken anywhere in Africa of many groups of disenfranchised people. And does this story really need to be told again? If it is intended as a catalyst for change, then it misses the mark. It appears to depict just another group of children.
    We know the problem. We get it. But the AIDS/HIV problem in Africa seems unsolvable for a host of reasons beyond our control.

    I realize the tendency here is to want to consider the photos as pretty pictures and essays divorced from the underlying issues, and there is nothing wrong with the photographer’s skill. But I don’t get, from this essay, what the photographer’s statement says is her interest in them. “Telling their stories” is unlikely to help them. There are hundreds of thousands of stories just like theirs. And they have been told over and over in photos.

    Perhaps the photographer could tackle some issues in her own back yard, ones she might actually be able to impact.

  2. Photos about ‘photography’ and the oscillating fashions and whims of this so called ‘i’m-a-witness-it’s-important-you-need-to-see-it’ – in order to stimulate ‘change’ on a macro-political level type-of ‘photography’. Sorry. Think it’s just self defeating. I am so numb to this tsunami of perfectly, economically and concisely and dare i say it, some what ‘coldly’ composed imagery of ‘human’ (african in the main part) suffering. It’s so god damned objectifying. Leaves me cold. Peace and best and continuation

  3. Not a bad set of images though it was only 8 and 13 that spoke to me of the condition of these children. Otherwise they were charming pictures of kids, evidently living at subsistence level, playing together. I sympathise with their plight but I’m not seeing too much that would engage me.

  4. I agree with you Steve,

    without reading the blurb, I would have no clue that this set of images is about AIDS..
    try harder

  5. Anna, I’ve been waiting to see your essay and am not disappointed. No, you don’t focus on the AIDS/HIV aspect of these children’s lives but you do show the amazing resilience of children who have suffered profound loss in their young lives. They still laugh, play, have curiousity about the world around them–in short they don’t give up living just because a very real part of them has died. Perhaps that is their message to the world: Life is to be lived not mourned.

    I think we photographers, especially the photojournalists amongst us, are apt to confuse our commitment to telling our subjects’ stories with the broader, more complex task of changing the conditions under which they live. If change happens because of our images it is not because we willed it to be so; it is because of a confluence of events and people that were outside of our power to orchestrate. Our part is to take the photos and get them out there. What happens or does not happen next is not our responsibility. This is not to say that we do not remain deeply concerned about the people and the struggles they face, but to produce the systemic change that is often needed requires much more than simply taking and publishing photos. Tackling systems is a full-time job in itself.

    What Anna has done here is to humanize the problem, to show us the faces of children who have been orphaned by AIDS/HIV in Uganda, to bring the statistics to life. That is a worthy work and I commend her for it. Anna, I hope your work will continue and that your photos will be seen far and wide. By the way, I love your way of taking these photos. You draw me in by giving me mere hints rather than hitting me over the head. Well done.


  6. Wow, seems like Jim has created a school of thought on BURN. Kill it in as fewer words as you can… Who would have thought?!?! ;-)

    Anna, don’t let them put you down. You have very fine imagery, and for me, the very proof that you got it, is that you did not feel you had to throw it in our face, but used understatement peripheral to the crisis itself.

    Yes, without text to tell us what lies at the center of these images, and how you immersed yourself beyond that of being a concerned traveller (one day here, another there), we are easily going to miss the point, and Patricia’s point about “resilience despite…” , is probably the positive side of what was said above negatively, namely that you show us life (which is ALWAYS resilient), all which, according to personalities, will result in some being touched by it and some telling you there is life just outside your door.

    I did look at it imagining it a part of a book or article about the AIDS crisis, and therefore did not ask for the images to show me the virus, the exhaustion, the stress. Part of me is also relieved to know that the kids may not be HIV positive for all the curse that befell them. So, basically, thoughts abound, as a set of such images will and should not leave us thoughtless.

    By having someone like David help you thru, you will be able to fill in where indeed some more relevant images to the crisis are needed, and avoid repetition of images, or rather kids stances, like when they are joyful or run “a la Mukacsi”.

    But for someone like me who thinks even the moon is just outside my door, one of the best essays I have seen on BURN, with images to make it so, not just choice of subject, and I better not learn this was one of the 200 that got the boot from the EPF….

  7. I love all the shapes
    in your photographs..
    If this is indeed,
    the childrens story,
    would love to see what they would do with a camera!!!
    you captured

  8. Some beautiful photos here, congratulations, Anna. Even though I do get the point of the critiques above (yes, without the explanatory text we would have no way of knowing this has anything to do with AIDS), it seems to me there is a more latent and potentially pernicious attitude underlying such criticisms: a kind of ascetic/protestant ideal of photography as necessarily a medium for social change, failing to achieve which it may be looked down upon as a flippant/self-indulgent pursuit… I am not sure about that. Yes, photography all too often is completely unable to effect social change, or help the photographic subjects in any way. But then what, should we all drop our cameras and become humanitarian workers, for our lives to be considered well-spent? It’s like saying that writing a novel or a short story (which may touch on socially relevant themes) does not bring about policy changes, so it is a waste of time.

  9. Fine work Anna. Visually, nice consistency and quality in the images and framing. I’m not sure what earlier posters are looking for. I think you do talk about the children with aids in this story. I mean, geez, it’s pictures and word in the story and they don’t work independent of each other! Why do pictures have to state all the answers? The title perfectly frames what the pictures will be about! There are different ways to tell a story rather than the obvious.

    Each of your photos is bitter-sweet. I appreciate that you show the joys of these kids, even with all they have to be sad about, they are still being children and full of joy and play. While at the same time you show the natural joy of children each picture is frayed at the edges, dresses are thread bare and torn, water doesn’t look that fresh, school room is poor and makeshift. I am sure that you could attest to the sad condition of orphans who have few to look after them, especially ones who have HIV/AIDS themselves and can not even pass away in comfort. Maybe it is because your approach is different than how Nachtwey tells stories like this, people can not see it yet.

    And one consistent thing I have noticed about the Burn photographers is that I could see all of the photos in publication, some more news slanted and some more to art. These would be excellent illustrations for a story. Even thought from looking at your website you have a very distinguished career, I hope you do more photo stories from this personal perspective you have found. I look forward to them.

    Best wishes

  10. I find the images to be well done, but yet the brevity of the captions seemed contrary to the intention stated (raising awareness). As mentioned above, had I not read the title of the essay, it could have appeared as an essay on famine or orphans of Darfur etc.

    I think the essay illustrates an interesting (if not outright sad) state of affairs concerning conflict photography and how some imagery has become so steeped inside our collective consciousness that there is almost an annoyance with this type of photography. The starving and disenfranchised of Africa has been photographed and displayed on so many occasions in so many ways and distributed via so many outlets at this point it feels like a reverse exploitation where nobody necessarily benefits; not the consumer of the image in feeling compassion or the subject of the image in receiving said compassion. Of course this is not true for all cases, but it is cresting to the point where this photography seems to cancel itself out.

    I think the images in the essay can be much better presented. And perhaps in a less redundant, mundane way (yes, people doing people things is great, but these aren’t fully cutting it).

    Either way, the photographer shows tremendous potential.

    Thank you for sharing ;-)

  11. A lot of compassion and beauty. Some great shots and well manipulated images (photoshop style contrast for b&w is too hard for me) but too short, also on website too short.

    Let’s see in future when photography will be more important than design and archi in your cv.

  12. Disagree with ya Jim…Except for 7 and 10 I don’t think the photos are super strong. I think many images could have been much better with just a little better light, or slight change of composition. However, why not tell these stories/issues over and over again….and why suggest that someone just focus on issues in their back yard…In any case I can imagine that shooting an orphanage is not an easy task. There are only so many kinds of photos you can get..Same with patients suffering from aids…I beginning to think that these kinds of projects almost come across stronger with video/sound, or maybe multimedia.

  13. first off – i love tight edits… well done. i also feel it was refreshing to see these images as opposed to the typical aids/africa images you see. these children can have aids/hiv but are shown living with it differently than you normally see in photographs. nice work.

  14. I think they are beautiful photographs. I love this sort of image. I see these images of kids being allowed to be kids. How is someone supposed to pictorially identify people with AIDS when its so rampant within a society.
    These images speak to me about people being themselves if that makes sense, and i didn’t mind if they only looked at that playful side of their lives.
    Keep up the beautiful work Anna.

  15. marcin luczkowski

    Dear Anna,

    Great, great, beautiful, strong, touchable series of photos. I am your fan… hat off.

  16. Congratulations, Anna- and thank you for sharing your lively and beautifully moving images. You’re truly in your element with these children. I agree with Patricia- with these images, you’ve shown us that life is stronger than tragedy; the human spirit is persistent and perpetually hopeful. The art of these photos–the lines, the light, the shapes–is subtle yet powerful. I’m looking forward to seeing what subjects you explore, dissect and reveal with your talented eye next! xx

  17. Anna,

    Lovely images, granted I don’t see the AIDS connection, as many here have mentioned.
    My one bug is that whenever people come to this continent, they always seem to pick the same genre of story: The miserable situation that is the life of any Africa (be it war, famine, drugs, HIV/AIDS or genocide).

    There are other stories to be told here, but no-one really fancies telling them.

    Then again, as Stephen Mayes put it, suffering Black folk are the main bread and butter for any photojournalist when entering Africa


  18. all good intentions aside, this just feels like tired old photojournalism cliches being run through the grinder yet again. and it feels like it’s been shot in 1 day.

    has anyone seen a photographer who has actually given an interesting opinion or shown a different angle on the AIDS crisis in Africa (or any other 3rd world continent/country for that matter)? I haven’t looked, but would be interested to see…

  19. Ben,

    I was glad to see that this didnt go down the path of showing just suffering. But as far as I know, I havent really seen such work like you are aksing about. It would be interesting tos ee, but yeah, most AIDS stuff, or TB stuff too looks and feels old and done, rehashed

  20. Pingback: Africa: Always a story to be told | Verbal Hmmm.

  21. Well, I´ve been following Burn for quite a while now and I think it´s time to speak up.

    This essay does have some quite aestically well made photosgraphsy, but they seem silent as many comments imply. I think it´s the angle that´s missing, there seems to be no clear focus in the images or in the text: “I want to tell about the 20 million orphaned children” – but what would you like to tell us?

    I think it raises some interesting questions about how to tell a story visually: how to make it come alive, to engage the viewer. Personally I think the story would be better told if narrowed down to one or to kids or to a certain institution – in other words, a more tight angle.

    But as said before. The eye is there, it´s visually pleasing and promising. Absolutely.

  22. I, like others it would appear, read the headline and became overcome with the powerful and sometimes negative emotion that was invoked for me from a title containing the words ‘AIDS’ and ‘Sub-Saharan Africa’. Your essay has proved my initial preconceived notion of what I should expect to see in an essay with a title of “AIDS Orphans in Sub Saharan Africa” as very wrong. Shame on me. Wrong such that when I viewed the essay yesterday it left me confused. It didn’t appear to do what I expected it to (and perhaps needed it to do). I still need to consider more deeply the many sides of what words portray.

    All of this is good and clever though. I came back to it today and found that it portrayed children being children. It says something about life and the resilience of the human condition. It demonstrates survival. Unfortunately i feel that due to this it does need some words to define the series.

    Like many, I have visited Africa and as many will have commented and genuinely felt amazement at the “happiness in having nothing” – not that by western standards their lives are anything other than quite degenerate but we can be wrong to benchmark other cultures by a western standard. The people which i’ve met and which you portray have something that many parts of western society don’t have – a happiness in nothing.

    Technically I find your photography quite alluring. I’m not certain that the essay is powerful but is most definitely something to behold. I think we have much greater things to see from you. Your emerging talent is great and your publication here is well deserved.

    Nice work and well done.

    Best wishes.

  23. Anna!…

    i am sorry i didnt see this was posted…im, generally speaking, not coming to Burn more than 2x’s a week, so I relieved to see that your pics have been published. For me, the transcendent photograph is #12….this photograph, for me, is not only the most sublime of the pictures but also has the greatest pull for me. I do love that the pictures are not ‘cliched’ pictures of Africa-families-living/dying-with-Aids and are an attemp to fight against that tendency, but I would agree with Oli that it is so important that, as photograhers and humans, we NOT subject people to our notions of the way we imagine an entire world, especially with the idea that our work necessarily ‘helps’ their plight, we must fight for something more rudimentary that our work. But I do know that Anna does this in her personal life, and so, in this sense, I have the priviledged position of knowing that Anna’s activism is not of the usual ilk of flying to some 3rd world country and photographing misery. I know how much these children have touched you (and all your work, for those not familiar, has dealt with societal ills and their impact on children) and that you wish, or hope, that through invocation and evocation, somehow others will be drawn and connect. The problem lay in our satiation of imagery and confinement….but is this your fault?…no…

    as a photographer, i’d ask: why is it that p icture number 12 is so sublime, speaks to richly to what you wish to attest?…in that picture, for me, lay the key to this work and what you hope to continue to accomplish….

    you must be relieved? ;)))….

    congratulations anna…

    all the best

  24. A number of these photos are striking, but missing from the whole sequence is the sense of intimacy that you describe in your statement. There, you give the kids’ names and talk about family, your need to bear witness. But the photos don’t give the viewer much insight into the reality of the kids’ lives. Yes, you have shot some poignant moments, but there is not much of a story beyond the fact that these are children living in rural Africa. I’m sure that you have brought much more of yourself and your connection to these kids into the project — but this sequence fall short.

  25. For me, these diving images are a very critical foundation for a long term piece that follows these children as they grow and hopefully live to have long beautiful lives..Anna, the work is just as it should be for now. Follow your heart and follow this family. You will have a powerful continuing testament to why life needs to be protected and helped, why people need to be informed. Am very proud of you and am deeply moved by many of the images in this series.

  26. Anna,

    Congratulations on a beautiful essay. I am going to repeat the sentiments of many responders, and say that #12 is magnificent. That one image gives the entire sense of place and time.

    Although I find it very refreshing that the essay is not another set of images of Africans suffering, I can’t help but ask why I should be concerned? They seem to be happy and well cared-for. There’s no expression in the images that express the scope or the depth of the problem. Are the children isolated and unaware of the problems they have/will face? I’m certainly not saying these image should be bogged down with oppressive imagery, just that we know these kids are coping with some difficult situations. I’d like the pictures to tell me what that is, not your intro.

    Looks like you have laid some impressive groundwork here. I hope you continue. Best wishes.

  27. I like the images, but agree with those who are saying that there doesn’t seem to be anything tying this kids to AIDS – and that’s the hard part of the story, I guess. They’re stuck in their situation b/c of AIDS, but the kid next door to them, living in the same poverty, may be there for a totally different reason. Visually, there’s no difference.

    It might have been more effective to focus on just one child, and let us really get into his/her world.

  28. Anna,

    I’m far from an expert but I enjoyed the technical quality but more importantly, I walk away with LIFE continuing to persevere through great loss. Life goes on, no matter what happens, hope and dreams continue as well as hardship and despair. These children have lost everything yet you can see hope and friendship still flourish.

    Beautiful work!

  29. Anna

    I have to add my vote to Nathans suggestion. Getting to know one child would be amazing.

    I applaud your effort and your concern, but your photos I’m afraid are not doing the job. I feel no connection. I am not moved.

    I know I would personally be overwhelmed and unable to come up with anything in such a situation, but, since you have chosen to go there, my humble advice would be to sit back and think about what it is you want to say. These photos I’m afraid say very little to me. Attatched to the text, they go a bit farther, but it’s really not enough. I think to achieve what you hoped, you need to do some soul searching before you make any more photos here.

  30. panos skoulidas

    things never change……..
    the “weak”, the “uneducated”…… still sleep with the M.Webster dictionary under their pillows…..
    getting impressed by their own selves….easily amused self lovers……
    ( where is that fly on the wall when u need her??????? )

  31. Carrie Roseman

    Great photographs, Anna. I feel that these images gives names to the children afflicted, and it feels like you are trying to effect change from a very personal perspective. Your closeness with these children, I feel, is obvious, and this adds to the gravity of the story. I like your approach, and I hope that you continue this project as these children grow. I love that you are trying to use photography as a tool to effect change. Jim Nachtwey was the one who hammered the importance of this point to me, and I think you understand that clearly.

  32. Anna,

    Congratulations for your project!
    I see beauty on your images and got the message of your work.
    I also believe you can learn a lot from all the previous posts. We can always improve our methods and also ideas, but never let any word put you down. Continue to express your point of view. Stick to your concept and, if you are happy with the results, that’s it.! It’s your work, your achievement.
    I hope to see the development of this project soon!

    All the best!

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