Lecture with Annie – Aids and Activism

Today’s lecture with Annie covered some topics including Aids and activism and how it is shown through photography.

Imaging Aids 1981 to present photography and activism was the main bulk of the talk with Annie and how different photographers present Aids as a topic of controversy. The main question we were working on was:

Did the Aids pandemic change the photojournalistic imaging of the ‘other’?

In some terms we thought yes the aids pandemic did change the photojournalistic imaging of the other. As it became a more widely discussed topic, photojournalists produced imagery that was much more considerate and fitting to the Aids pandemic. They weren’t always showing images of malnourished people and as though it was something to be feared within these people. In a couple of adverts we were shown, the pandemic was providing mass panic and some pretty scary adverts that would have sparked fear in those watching. This is a far cry from the still imagery that we now see in this day and age where Aids is more widely talked about and understood.

As more and more photographers were producing work, exhibitions went up all around the country – some with great results and others starting massive outcries and feelings of mass ignorance of the development that people had in the understanding and stray away from stereotypical portrayals of these people.

We looked at lots of different photographers and discussed some key points within their work. For example, some photographers have been given choices for representation. Eg. if the person doesn’t want to be photographed because of the fact it identifies them as having HIV/AIDS, then the photographers sometimes came up with more creative solutions to still showcase how people would see themselves represented through objects for example. In some cases photographers set up a frame and asked people to create an image they thought represented themselves, in some cases people used their hands and arms holding a condom to represent AIDs and HIV.

The main reason we looked at this is because people are often represented in certain ways that they may not wish to be represented in. Photographing in this way and never showing a face of someone is a different way to work with ideas of representation and how we can show someone and represent them without them feeling like they are at risk or uncomfortable with what is going on. There are several ways to photograph, but as it has been pointed out, this is quite difficult with AIDS as there are so many stereotyped ways to photograph. (Don Mccullin was caught in this trap and there was uproar about it, but he did later go on to photograph the crisis in a different way.)

As we noted throughout the lecture, some topics are harder to approach and work on that others are, especially if the content is sensitive.

As part of the lecture we took part in an activity in pairs, where we were given a scenario and asked to answer some questions surrounding it.

We chose the scenario about a Rwandan genocide survivor, named Liberte, 30, who lost his entire family in the genocide. He only survived because he hid in a pit latrine full of dead bodies, pretending to be dead for three days. A Rwandan NGO helped Liberte with trauma counselling and he now lives in a house with other young people who were phrased during the genocide. He wants to be a lawyer.

The questions we were given were as below:

  1. How do we usually see these people? – We usually see them as vulnerable and innocent, or as labelled refugees/migrants/immigrants rather than just as other humans. They are seen as hope for the future however still attached to the genocide and pitied.
  2. What are we used to? – We are used to seeing war photos, the idea of vulnerability, negative depictions, looking lost, exploitation, lost limb and wound focused images.
  3. What are the stereotypes? – The divide of us and them. Animal like as opposed to human due to nature of the event. Old fashioned and tribal.
  4. What kinds of production values are used in picturing these people? – Set in their own environment, and clothing is usually relevant to their culture or compared to British culture clothing vs their home traditional clothing. Often pictured as foreign.

How do you think these people would want to be photographed?

  • Disassociated from the trauma as it may bring back unwanted memories.
  • As they are now in their life, not as they were.
  • Strong.
  • Represented in their best light possible.
  • As normal humans not as objects or things to be looked at as objects of interest rather than humans.
  • Progression with their life and how they are getting on now and where they are.


We noted it was important to look at these things and scenarios because the way we look at the world is so different than just a stereotype.

I personally found the points Annie was making incredibly interesting and it was important for me to understand the way in which we represent people and ways we can work around representation and stereotyping. I think I learnt some interesting points from this lecture and am glad I had the chance to understand them more.



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