In 1999, Eric Gottesman travelled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to photograph the experiences of children orphaned by AIDS. Sudden Flowers is the collective that he formed with an original group of six children. All of them were between the ages of eight and eighteen, and all of them had lost both parents to AIDS. None had been allowed to attend their parents’ funerals. “Each of them had horrible stories to tell, fantastically disturbing, like tragic fairy tales or Biblical fables,” Gottesman recalled.
Over the next fifteen years, the collective grew to include more than thirty members. They shot close to three thousand photos, and along the way Gottesman found that the work transformed when the children were given more responsibility. Soon the group developed into a true collaboration, and eventually no one could remember his role in the production and editing process.
Together, they forged new ways of negotiating loss and, at times, revealed a startlingly developed vocabulary for hope and grief. The children, Gottesman said, “invented their own mythology, their own language to describe their lives: photographic fantasies as real, as immediate and as visual as memories.” Sudden Flowers, which is also the title of their book, is at once a sideways glance at trauma and a direct gaze at the incomprehensible. Above is a selection of images from the project, along with the text that appears with it in the book.
More Pictures – the title of their book,