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Gallery Opens
Photography Exhibit on Effect of AIDS Relief

Gallery Opens
Photography Exhibit on Effect of AIDS Relief

Nguyen Quoc Khanh fell ill last year with tuberculosis at his home in Vietnam and soon discovered he had HIV. By then he was too weak to work and support his family.

Nguyen Quoc Khanh fell ill last year with tuberculosis at his home in Vietnam and soon discovered he had HIV. By then he was too weak to work and support his family.

Khanh had been a longtime heroin user and likely contracted the virus that causes AIDS through shared needles. The illness put Khanh, his wife, and their two children -- who all shared a single room -- at risk of losing their last shreds of dignity. But only a few months later, after Khanh began taking antiretroviral drugs, he regained his strength, returned to work, and brought new hope to his home.

"The whole family structure was kind of falling apart," said Steve McCurry, an American photographer who followed Khanh's recovery. "For him to be able to get back to work and get on his feet again was really encouraging."

Images by McCurry and seven other photographers shape a new exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, which traces the effects of antiretroviral drug treatment in the fight against AIDS around the world. "Access to Life," organized by New York-based photography cooperative Magnum Photos and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, will be on view through July 20.

The show, which opened over the weekend, follows subjects with HIV from India, Haiti, Mali, Peru, Russia, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, and Vietnam. They are portrayed through video, Polaroid snapshots, and hundreds of photo portraits. Admission is $6 for the exhibit, which will eventually travel to Paris, Berlin, Rome and London.

The exhibit is a timely one. It comes as Congress considers a dramatic increase in U.S. contributions to the Global Fund, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and other programs to fight AIDS and HIV in developing nations.

The House passed a bill in April to more than triple AIDS funding, to $50 billion over the next five years. But the measure has stalled in the Senate. The Global Fund is seeking a $1.6 billion commitment from the United States for 2009, over $850 million in 2008.

Part of the goal of opening the exhibit in Washington was "to shake up policy makers and decision makers to continue the funding for this project," said Mark Lubell, director of Magnum Photos.

Also, he District of Columbia has one of the worst HIV and AIDS infection rates in the country.

The devastation AIDS causes around the world is well-known, said Natasha Bilimoria, executive director of the group Friends of the Global Fight. "But the tremendous effort that has begun all over the world to basically bring those who are sentenced to death from HIV back to life is actually not well-recognized at all," she said.

Photojournalist Larry Towell documented the recovery of several people in South Africa and Swaziland. Towell and other photographers on the project worked with curators on presenting the stories in the exhibit. Towell included video and photos, along with captions he wrote in pencil on the gallery walls.

"If the world were 1,000 people, 600 would be living in a shantytown with little access to health care," Towell wrote above his panoramic photographs depicting the home of one of his subjects.

"If I'm going to be in an art gallery, I'm going to try to anchor the work in the real world," he said.

Tobha Nzima, 35, one of Towell's subjects in Mbabane, Swaziland, traveled to Washington for the show's opening and said she was happy with how it turned out. Part of the exhibit tells how Nzima lost two long-term partners to AIDS as well as her 8-year-old son. Now she and her 16-year-old daughter are receiving treatment.

"I'm just making an example to other people who maybe are living with HIV disease," she said.

Some subjects in the project did not survive long enough for a second visit from the photographers. But the images show dramatic improvements among those who joined support groups and received medication in time.

The presence of the photographers for weeks on end was a risk for subjects such as the Khanh family in Vietnam. The family runs a food stand selling porridge and rice cakes, and their income dropped as people noticed the photographer, generating rumors about Khanh's health.

"They let us come back the second time, though," said Karen Emmons, a writer and researcher who helped McCurry with the project. "They were willing to take that risk." (AP)

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