Coming of age for Swazi girls is tough. A tiny African nation of one million, Swaziland is ruled by one of the world’s last remaining absolute monarchies. Its age-old tradition of polygamy and its relaxed attitude toward sexuality have met in a devastating combination for women: Swaziland reports the highest percentage of HIV-positive people in the world, with the hardest hit being young women. For every two young Swazi women, one is HIV-positive. Life expectancy has dropped from 61 to almost 31 over the past ten years. I first went to Swaziland in 2006 to begin documenting the coming of age rites of young women living amidst the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The progression of this work has moved from traditional rites of passage to modern youth culture to intimate look inside the homes of HIV-positive women.
With this work Krisanne Johnson has received the W. Eugene Smith Grant for Humanitarian Photography 2011. She also has been selected for the second prize of the W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography 2009, and she has obtained the 2009 Getty Images Grant for Editorial Photography.