The Most Important Picture by Brendan Bannon

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“These pictures represent the kids’ dreams, ideas of community, family and self. In each picture there exists a story of courage and survival. In our time it is an under reported miracle that people face calamity and find a way to survive and sometimes even flourish. If you talk to these kids, if you read their words and see their images, you will see people that are not angry and not consumed by fear. Look at these kids and see their strength, their complexity and their humanity. Look in their faces and see a bit of yourself.”

Brendan Bannon, Photographer
Buffalo, New York

My name is Liana from Giurgiu and I’m a mother of three children. Alexandru is my youngest child. For both me and his older brothers, it breaks our hearts that he has this disease (HIV/SIDA). Fate has given me only trouble and hard times. I have raised my kids alone but this doesn’t compare (having a child with an incurable illness) to the troubles that took my strength away. Alexandru is a good child and behaves. We have nothing but to hope that God will help us to move forward.
- Alexandru D.’s mom

My name is Ioana and I live in Giurgiu – I’m a mother of five children that I raised with much love. Carla is my youngest child. Me and my whole family are suffering a lot. I didn’t think that fate would punish me like this. My little girl is sick (HIV/SIDA) and she knows what she has. Her brothers and sisters encourage her and give her hope that it will be okay. I, her mother, teach her what’s best for her: to take her medicines, to have faith in God and in doctors, that she will be okay.
- Carla’s mom

I knew for a week that Bogdan is participating in this project. I was thinking – “Well, good! Maybe we will communicate better.”
One day I was in the kitchen and I needed Bogdan for something. I went to his bedroom and in that moment I saw him taking a photo of his antiretroviral medicines. During the course of the project I read the story he wrote about that picture. The title was “The medicines were prolonging his life!” “Yes! “Photography” helped us communicate (about his disease).”

-Marilena, Bogdan’s mom

Brief Project Overview:

The Most Important Picture is a documentary photography/youth education project that will create a global portrait of HIV/AIDS through the eyes of children affected by the disease. Working in partnership with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) worldwide, I have set out to uncover, document, and reveal the human dimension of HIV/AIDS in the lives of children.

To accomplish this goal and to explore the pandemic from a variety of social, cultural, and political perspectives, I am creating a broad geographic view of the issue by conducting workshops and working with children in ten different countries. The Most Important Picture is unique in that the words and images presented are those of the children living with this illness, not my interpretation of the situation. The project began in Giurgiu, Romania in 2003 and is being conducted with children in Nairobi, Kenya in 2004. Other sites to be included are India, China, Thailand, Haiti, Russia, Botswana, South Africa, Uganda, and the United States.

Photographs by HIV Positive Teens In Romania:

The project began in Romania, a country with the highest incidence of pediatric HIV in Europe. The children were infected in the late 80’s when government mandates prescribed blood transfusions as a supplement for low birth-weight, sick and premature infants. With support from the J. Kirby Simon Trust and the US State Department, I conducted workshops with eight infected teens through Firefly, an NGO founded by mothers of HIV positive children. We worked together for two weeks. I taught them basic photography and provided the tools and resources (cameras, film, photo processing) necessary to document their lives and surroundings. The children were aware of their disease and worked hard to discuss its impact on their lives. Carefully directed photographic shooting assignments and writing exercises provided an opportunity for them to explore their hopes, fears, dreams, and realities. It was a tremendously empowering experience for these young people. They learned they had a voice and were encouraged to express themselves as a way to combat fear, misunderstanding, and discrimination.

The result is an incredibly powerful exhibition of photographs (50 images and 50 text panels) that invites viewers into a conversation with these teenagers. It is both a revelation and an inspiration. The students’ strength, complexity and humanity becomes apparent and we see their individuality and beauty. Through their words and images, they emerge, not as statistics or symbols of a problem or political hardship, but as children - children with thoughts, ideas, goals, and aspirations.

Future Plans & Project Goals:

My goal with this project is to challenge people’s tendency to ignore the overwhelming reality of HIV/AIDS and to dehumanize those afflicted by exposing the toll this disease takes on children. I am currently working to secure funds to fully immerse myself in the project for the next two years. I will conduct workshops with children throughout the world to expand public discourse about the pandemic and to increase support and empathy for those whose lives are shaped by this disease. The resultant images will be targeted for publication in newspapers and magazines and a photographic exhibit will be produced for each country. Upon completion of the full project, a large scale public display will be created and I will produce a book for use as a public policy/fundraising/awareness tool.