After growing up in Germany, Katja Heinemann has spent the past 14 years in the United States and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. As a documentary and editorial photographer, her work focuses on intimate portrayals of people and everyday life in America, exploring issues of women's health and body consciousness, immigration, and, more recently, American patriotism and militarism after September 11.
Since the summer of 2000, Katja has been working on the new media documentary On Borrowed Time, which chronicles the lives of children and teenagers who have grown up with HIV/AIDS in the United States. The resulting multimedia website by Time.com won several awards in the 2002 Pictures of the Year and National Press Photographers Association competitions. Her photographs and interviews with the children of Camp Heartland were published as a book, Journey of Hope, in the spring of 2005.
Katja was a contributor to Chicago's independent documentary project, Chicago in the Year 2000, and her photographs have been included in the anthologies Here is New York, which documents September 11, and Pandemic: Facing AIDS. Her editorial work has appeared in Time magazine, U.S. News & World Report, Stern, the Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine, and French Marie Claire, among others. She is represented by Aurora Photos.
With improved medical treatments, HIV-positive children in the United States are now reaching their teenage years. But the majority of young people suffering from HIV/AIDS cannot talk about the illness outside their homes—and sometimes not even within their families—because of the stigma attached to the disease. Many feel isolated from their peers as well as adults. They do not know others who are experiencing the emotions that accompany illness, secrecy, and loss. While new treatments bring hope, a cure remains elusive, and children living with HIV/AIDS have to learn to cope with toxic, often experimental, medical regimens. School poses a separate set of problems, from needing to be secretive and hiding medications to missing classes because of illness and visits to the doctor. And as the children grow older, the already difficult process of coming of age sexually is further complicated by the sexually transmittable nature of their illness.
On Borrowed Time explores the impact the disease has on young people. The photographs were taken at Camp Heartland for Children Affected by HIV/AIDS, where a safe atmosphere and feeling of acceptance enable the children to share their stories and find support. Both HIV negative children, who suffer from the impact that the illness has on their families, and HIV positive children attend the camp.
Of the approximately one million people living with HIV in the United States, an estimated 10,000 are children who contracted the virus from their mothers or through tainted blood transfusions. Eighty-five percent of HIV-positive children are Black or Latino; most live in urban areas. HIV/AIDS in the United States remains a disease of poverty.
Many Americans now view HIV-infection as another chronic but manageable illness, unaware of the overwhelming physical and psychological consequences that accompany the disease even in a nation that can afford to treat those who have contracted the virus. Contrary to the widespread assumption that the epidemic has been brought under control, HIV-infection rates in America have remained consistent over the past two decades at 40,000 new infections each year. And in certain segments of the population HIV/AIDS is actually on the rise, with the fastest growing rate of new infections among minorities and young people between the ages of 15 and 24.
Continued, in-depth documentation of the AIDS epidemic in western, industrialized nations such as the United States is crucial. No amount of medical technology can address the social causes that perpetuate the cycle of new infections—causes that include the stigma toward people with the illness and the lack of public education and prevention efforts. Only through an increased awareness of the psychological causes and effects of HIV transmission will we be able to combat this illness successfully.
—Katja Heinemann, December 2005