David Brazier

A note from the photographer

These images belong to four loose categories: 1) Portraits of people who have been affected by AIDS; 2) Aerial images of graveyards; 3) Aerial images of apostolic churches; 4) Aerial images of paths across landscapes. A final image entitled “Reliquary” stands on its own, and for me most directly evokes Zimbabwe’s legacy of war: It is a military vehicle "graveyard,” reverberating with the history of the past conflicts.  

Death binds all these images together. The portraits are the most intimate, and thus most difficult, to photograph – despite, and perhaps in part because of, the fact that the subjects all urgently wanted to be photographed. They wanted urgently to tell their stories. To be remembered. Some are dying; some are grieving the loss of a loved one; some are orphans who have lost not only family, but also possessions and homes. The scale and devastation of AIDS is now a part of the human and physical landscape. It is my mission to try to capture the immense dignity in people – to find the nexus between incredible beauty and pain and tragedy that coexist in these images. The light falling on the sickbed of Temba Sibanda for example – warm amber entering through gaps in the roof beneath which below which the man himself lays fading.  

The graveyards tricked me. I was flying over the area and just saw lovely patterns etching the landscape – colors, textures, order, repetition. Then it struck me that they are graves – hectares upon hectares of graves spreading out from the city. Now that I knew, I could just see a fresh hole here, and there, that had been dug like mouths, waiting for bodies to fill them.  

To photograph open-air apostolic churches from above had surprising similar feel. Even though these improvised spaces of worship are so exposed, they still feel personal and sensitively tended, and have long struck me as visually fascinating. They have proliferated hugely over the past few years, keeping pace with Zimbabwe's collapse – a process of people claiming, then sanctifying, open land on the periphery of the city. The rituals performed there are intense and theatrical. Worshipers congregate – women and children on one side, men on the other, all dressed in white. Occasionally, someone will be clad in bright red or blue. Though the worship takes place in the open, the congregants become so captivated by the prophet and his assistants that it is as if they feel enclosed and private. The churches have grown in intricacy as well as number, with flags, cut grass and earthworms now more clearly discerning the spaces.

The last group of images expands upon my preoccupation with the way people shape the land from the air. The patterns and networks created by paths criss-crossing the landscape speak of the incessant travel and toil of daily life, which has become increasingly difficult over the last decade. The patterns speak to me of the constant in which people turn back to the land as an eternal source of sustenance, a last resort in hard times. Land has huge meaning in Zimbabwe, and the patterns etched through human activity – burning, ploughing, walking – become maps of personal and national histories. The repetitive journeys across the land, the seasonal cycles of burning and agriculture and flooding and the constant reclaiming and healing through natural succession. The wounding and scarring of journeys, the seasonal cycles of burning agricultural detritus, the flooding and constant reclaiming of land are the ghosts of eternal conflict and claims over the land.

Born in Cape Town, David Brazier studied photography at the Harare Polytechnic, after which he travelled extensively round Europe, South-East Asia, Australia, the USA, Canada and central and southern Africa with his camera. In the early 1990s he founded WideAngle, a small professional studio focusing on architectural, environmental and advertising assignments.

During the early 1990s Brazier worked as a stringer for Agence France Press in Harare. In 1997 he completed a course in photojournalism at the School for the Advancement of Photojournalism in Johannesburg and the same year achieved an Award of Merit for his submission, ‘Reliquary’, to the Zimbabwe Heritage Exhibition. His architectural work has been published in the New York Times, the International Ove Arup Journal and the Architectural Review as well as in many books and articles and online. Between 1995 and 1998 he was the main photographic contributor to The Zimbabwean Review and in 1998 his work appeared in the 28th edition of Revue Noire. In March 2003 his photograph of Oliver Mtukudzi was published on the cover of TIME Magazine (Africa).