Heroines & Heroes: Hope, HIV & Africa



“Heroines and Heroes is another visual milepost on the 25-year chronicle of the HIV-AIDS pandemic.” — David Friend, Editor of Creative Development, Vanity Fair, August 2006

“Simon has produced a collection of images that is simultaneously devastating and ennobling — It’s a stirring, inspiring collection.” — The Globe and Mail (Toronto) Art Critic Gary Michael Dault, Aug 21, 2006

“Some shots are almost unbearable to contemplate in their poignancy. Others are unexpected, heartening snapshots of life under dire circumstances.” — Matthew Halliday, See Magazine, November 30, 2006

“Steve Simon’s creates an intimate portrait with elegant, expressive sequencing. He shows us the humanity of people much like ourselves.” — Marianne Fulton, Author, Curator and Photographic Scholar, November 2006-digitaljournalist.org

From the Publisher

This coming December 1st is World AIDS Day, and it is also, not coincidentally, the official launch date of Canadian photographer Steve Simon’s new book of photographs, Heroines and Heroes: Hope, HIV, and Africa. The softcover book, which includes 98 mostly color pictures, is the product of four trips to Africa that Simon has taken since 2002. The photographer is donating all of his royalties to organizations fighting AIDS in Africa, and one of his hopes for the book is that the pictures will motivate readers to make donations themselves. To that end, a list of worthy candidate organizations is provided towards the end of the book.Heroines and Heroes, says Simon, represents a look at one particular slice of the AIDS situation in Africa, not an attempt at a comprehensive view of the entire story, if that would even be possible in one book. Like any book on AIDS must, Simon’s work contains difficult pictures of sickness and loss, but it is not just a relentless catalog of suffering, shot in stark black and white, as the traditions of documentary photojournalism might prescribe.

“I didn’t want to ignore the harsh realities of the scourge of AIDS,” says Simon, “but at the same time, I wanted to show some of the positive things that were going on in the fight against AIDS. I wanted to show daily life. I wanted to show the beauty of the landscape, and that not everybody is always miserable.”
Eamon Hickey, robgalbraith.com

The people he has visited are dying from AIDS. It cannot have been easy to make photographs of them without isolating them, sentimentalizing them, objectifying them or exploiting them, but Simon has produced a collection of images that is simultaneously devastating and ennobling — troubling, and yet teeming with the innate vitality of human warmth and joy and resilience under pressure, under siege, under the terrible impress of time. It’s a stirring, inspiring collection.

Gary Michael Dault, The Globe and Mail (Toronto) Art Critic

Steve Simon’s work continues to evolve and we, in turn, continue to be inspired by it. Heroines and Heroes is another visual milepost on the 25-year chronicle of the HIV-AIDS pandemic.

David Friend, Editor of Creative Development, Vanity Fair

Steve Simon’s latest book, Heroines & Heroes balances human tragedy with hope in sub-Saharan Africa. The book captures ad intimate portrait of small villages with small clinics making a big difference. The expressive sequencing of this documentary work is indeed elegant. Beginning with beautiful vistas it moves through impoverished villages-people singing in church and young couples meeting, dancing, wedding-and includes dark figures of young prostitutes greeting potential customers. People receive care while others are at the end of their lives; death is a community affair and the business of death is always present. He reaches out showing us the humanity of people very much like ourselves and provides the resources through which we can help.

Marianne Fulton, Author, Curator and Photographic Scholar

Simon’s talents as a photographer are in strong evidence throughout the book; some of his shots are almost unbearable to contemplate in their poignancy. In one, a stack of child-sized coffins lies propped against a wall, awaiting fresh bodies. In another, terminal patients sit in a dark room, their gaunt, knowing faces lit only by candlelight, or obscured by shadows. But other photos are unexpected, heartening, and even funny snapshots of life under dire circumstance (and we’re not talking about trite “inspirational” shots of laughing African children and dancing villagers). An especially poignant photo shows a young boy riding across the vast savannah on horseback, looking like nothing so much as an African cowboy.”

Matthew Halliday, See Magazine, November 30, 2006



Dedicated to The Grandmothers.

The continent of Africa had always scared me a little.

Like so many places in the world where the deadly problems of war, poverty and AIDS exist, my perception of these places was formed by much of what I read and saw in the media. But the stereotypes I had in my mind were not what I encountered when I arrived in Zambia for the first time in 2002. I’m sure they existed somewhere, but the good people I met were kind and generous and welcoming. Even with the deadly AIDS pandemic clearly taking its toll, the people I met and observed–persevered; despite all the hardships.

As I continued my travels through Lesotho, Mozambique and Ethiopia, I mostly felt safe and secure.

It’s not accurate to generalize about a place like Africa. There are more than 800 million people living in 54 countries, speaking 2,000 languages on a continent with rich and diverse histories and cultures. But even with this diversity, the photograph of AIDS in Africa is a familiar one.

While Africa may seem so far away, I think of people I have met there, people like myself and my family and friends. Kindred spirits I have come to know, with similar hopes and dreams for a better life.

Our Ancestral home is in the Rift Valley, somewhere between Nairobi and The Red Sea. This is worth remembering: if it were not for Africa we would not be here at all. Africa is where we come from“. John Ryle

It must be understood, without any hint of heady romanticism, that Africa in the 1950s and 1960s, when I was most impressionable, was a continent of vitality, growth and boundless expectation. It got into your blood, your viscera, your heart.The bonds were not just durable, they were unbreakable. There was something intoxicating about an environment of such hope, anticipation, affection, energy, indomitability.

The Africa I knew was poor, but it wasn’t staggering under the weight of oppression, disease, and despair; it was absolutely certain that it could triumph over every exigency. There were countless health emergencies-polio, measles, malaria, malnutrition-but it never felt like Armageddon. In fact, life expectancy began to rise in the late 1960s, until the reversal induced by Structural Adjustment Programs on the one hand, and AIDS on the other.

And the people, the people everywhere, were so unbelievably kind; I had never encountered cultures so uniformly inclusive, gentle, decent, welcoming.

I was smitten for life.

You can understand, therefore, how painful it is to visit my beloved Africa under present day circumstances. It’s not just the ruinous economic and social decline, it’s the ravaging of the pandemic; it’s the way in which a communicable disease called AIDS has taken countries by the throat and reduced them to spectral caricatures of their former selves.

I have to say that the ongoing plight of Africa forces me to perpetual rage. It’s all so unnecessary, so crazy that hundreds of millions of people should be thus abandoned.

From Race Against Time, Stephen Lewis, United Nations Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa.



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