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TED2003

Kristen Ashburn: The face of AIDS in Africa

February 28, 2003

In this moving talk, documentary photographer Kristen Ashburn shares unforgettable images of the human impact of AIDS in Africa.

Kristen Ashburn - Photographer
Kristen Ashburn's photographs bring us face-to-face with real people in desperate circumstances. Taking us to the intimate spaces of her subjects -- the victims of war, disaster, epidemic -- she elicits the sublime sadness and resolve of human beings in suffering. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
When I first arrived in beautiful Zimbabwe,
00:12
it was difficult to understand that 35 percent of the population
00:15
is HIV positive.
00:20
It really wasn't until I was invited to the homes of people
00:23
that I started to understand the human toll of the epidemic.
00:27
For instance, this is Herbert with his grandmother.
00:32
When I first met him, he was sitting on his grandmother's lap.
00:36
He has been orphaned, as both of his parents died of AIDS,
00:40
and his grandmother took care of him until he too died of AIDS.
00:43
He liked to sit on her lap
00:47
because he said that it was painful for him to lie in his own bed.
00:49
When she got up to make tea, she placed him in my own lap
00:54
and I had never felt a child that was that emaciated.
00:58
Before I left, I actually asked him if I could get him something.
01:05
I thought he would ask for a toy, or candy,
01:09
and he asked me for slippers,
01:11
because he said that his feet were cold.
01:14
This is Joyce who's -- in this picture -- 21.
01:17
Single mother, HIV positive.
01:20
I photographed her before and after
01:23
the birth of her beautiful baby girl, Issa.
01:25
And I was last week walking on Lafayette Street in Manhattan
01:28
and got a call from a woman who I didn't know,
01:31
but she called to tell me that Joyce had passed away
01:34
at the age of 23.
01:37
Joyce's mother is now taking care of her daughter,
01:39
like so many other Zimbabwean children
01:42
who've been orphaned by the epidemic.
01:44
So a few of the stories.
01:46
With every picture,
01:48
there are individuals who have full lives
01:50
and stories that deserve to be told.
01:55
All these pictures are from Zimbabwe.
01:57
Chris Anderson: Kirsten, will you just take one minute,
03:42
just to tell your own story of how you got to Africa?
03:44
Kirsten Ashburn: Mmm, gosh.
03:49
CA: Just --
03:50
KA: Actually, I was working at the time, doing production
03:51
for a fashion photographer.
03:55
And I was constantly reading the New York Times,
03:57
and stunned by the statistics, the numbers.
04:00
It was just frightening.
04:04
So I quit my job
04:06
and decided that that's the subject that I wanted to tackle.
04:08
And I first actually went to Botswana, where I spent a month --
04:12
this is in December 2000 --
04:16
then went to Zimbabwe for a month and a half,
04:18
and then went back again this March 2002
04:21
for another month and a half in Zimbabwe.
04:24
CA: That's an amazing story, thank you.
04:27
KB: Thanks for letting me show these.
04:29

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Kristen Ashburn - Photographer
Kristen Ashburn's photographs bring us face-to-face with real people in desperate circumstances. Taking us to the intimate spaces of her subjects -- the victims of war, disaster, epidemic -- she elicits the sublime sadness and resolve of human beings in suffering.

Why you should listen

Kristen Ashburn's poignant photographs bring us into close contact with individuals in the midst of enormous hardship -- giving a human face to struggles that much of the world knows only as statistics and blurbs on the news. She has photographed the people of Iraq a year after the U.S. invasion, Jewish settlers in Gaza, suicide bombers, the penal system in Russia, victims of tuberculosis and the aftermath of the tsunami in Sri Lanka and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. One of her more recent works, BLOODLINE: AIDS and Family, looked at the human impact of AIDS in Africa.

Her unflinching photographs from the Middle East, Europe, and Africa have appeared in many publications including The New Yorker, TIME, Newsweek, and Life. She has won numerous awards, including the NPPA's Best of Photojournalism Award and two World Press Photo prizes.

The original video is available on TED.com
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