Photojournalist Andri Tambunan was recently notified that he is a finalist for The Asian Photographers Grant for his project, Against All Odds, which documents unusually high AIDS/HIV rates and low awareness in Papuan indigenous populations. To help support Andri’s important work, click here.
To be considered for the Asian Photographers Grant, a project must be an in-depth photographic documentation in Asia that explores a critical issue that is unknown or under-reported. It must also make a positive impact on the local community and help vocalize the issues at the grassroots, local community or NGO level. Out of over 100 proposals from all over Asia, Andri and four other finalists will be showcased at this year’s 7th Ankor Photo Festival, from November 19-26 in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The winner will be chosen during the festival.
We thought this would be a great time to talk more with Andri about his project and how your support through Emphas.is will allow him to help the community he is documenting.
Why did you start documenting AIDS/HIV in the indigenous populations of Papua? How long have you been photographing in that community and what is their response to you?
Andri: This project started as simply a need to find answers. In 2009 I was in Jakarta, Indonesia, visiting family when I read a sentence in a news article that caught my attention: “ I would say 75% of Papuans don’t believe there is HIV.” The article focused on Juliana Yarisetou, a housewife who contracted HIV from her husband. HIV/AIDS awareness was low at the time, and she was told to go home and rest by a doctor when she came for treatment. At one point she weighed 22kg (48.5lbs). Her husband and youngest children died from AIDS, and, after discovering her illness, her community ostracized her.
I was shocked by this article and wanted to know more, but I could find very few facts or images. I emailed the reporter who wrote the article, and he referred me to a local NGO in Jayapura, capital of Papua. I decided go to Papua, not really knowing what I would find. A week later I met Juliana in person. She had become an AIDS advocacy officer for an NGO and was healthy again.
I ended staying in Papua for a little over a month. In Jayapura, I worked together with Yayasan Harapan Ibu (YHI) or Mother’s Hope Foundation, a local NGO that has been very successful raising awareness of HIV/AIDS and educating the use of condom to help prevent infection. YHI helped me gain access and referred me to their colleagues in other cities in Papua.
During my stay in Papua, I met young girls with HIV who had to sell their bodies in order to survive; a housewife who was abandoned by her husband after contracting HIV; young men and women living in isolation because they were rejected by their family,; and doctors, nurses, and social workers who are on the frontline of this epidemic. I saw that this epidemic affects everyone and I realized the importance of documenting it.
Even now Papua is a restricted area, especially to foreigners and journalist, so my Indonesian background and fluency in Bahasa is definitely an advantage. I made a promise to myself that I would go back to continue this project partly because I am one of the few who can do it — it’s my duty to tell their stories.
Tell us a little bit about your Emphas.is project, Against All Odds. How do you plan to use your photography to help the people you photograph?