Scott Raffe is known around the world for his fine art photographs of Circus Flora and Zoppe, an Italian Family Circus. A Chicago native, Raffe fell in love with Oklahoma’s odd characters and moved here in 2002. He passed away on July 4, 2011.
In this segment of The Short So Long, Noah Roberts talks about hiring Raffe in 2007 to take photographs of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa. The trip led the two to Avalon, the largest cemetery in the country. Roberts used the photos for a TEDGlobal conference presentation to demonstrate the need for innovation in the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
This segment features music from local Tulsa musicians Annie Ellicott and Lindsey Neal.
Noah Roberts: At the age of 12, he lost his hearing from scarlet fever and it was the same moment that his mom gave him a camera. Something shifted. It was really kind of that magical moment where he converted misfortune into fortune. And it gave him this kind of this super sense, if you will, for being able to capture things with his, with his eyes. Scott is most known for his fine art commercial photography, his reputation is international. He shot all over the world. All over Africa, Europe, worked in St. Louis, Denver, Oklahoma.
I’m Noah Roberts, a friend of Scott Raffe. In 2006, I was invited to present at TED, The TED Global Conference, and they said, “Hey, we’re sorry but you only have three minutes. But go crazy.” You know, “Be great. But you have three minutes.” And I remember kind of panicking and so I thought of Scott. I thought, you know, the only way I can convey what I want to say would be through images. And so I twisted his arm and hired him to go to South Africa with me.
He had no idea what he was walking into. We were going into some really intense environments. Places like Avalon, which is a very well-known cemetery in South Africa, near Soweto. There were so many people dying from AIDS in that community that you had to take a bus. And you would reserve a slot, you’d get a number and then you would get on your bus and then they would take the bus to the gravesite, put your flowers down and get back on the bus and everybody’s going the same direction. The only thing you could compare it to would be like Disneyland where you have tourists.
We had to see these with our own eyes and so we got to the cemetery and we had to have security with us it was a very dangerous area. And it was a late Sunday afternoon and so they had closed the park and they had recommended that we not go in there, and I did not want to go in there, I’m a huge wuss. I was overwhelmed by the fact that what looked like a farm where you could just see, you know, as far as the eye could see, rows and rows of what should be corn or soy or something were fresh graves as far as you can see.
Scott – the job was I had to get in and take the – I got to capture this. I got to do it in the very best way possible. And that’s exactly what he did.
I did my TED Conference. I went home. Scott submitted those images and he ended up winning some awards for those images. And instead of grandstanding or making a big deal out of himself, he directed 100% of the focus to the Perinatal HIV Research Unit in South Africa that we’re trying to help. There just aren’t that many artists that I know of that could maintain that level of humility in situations that, frankly, would’ve been quite easy to say, “Yeah. Thank you very much. And I’m quite proud of my work too.”