In 1983 I became aware of an insidious ‘gay disease’ that began to permeate the queer male population causing fear and devastation within the community, as well as bigotry and intolerance directed toward them. Today, HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) have become global issues and are firmly planted in everyone’s lives and consciousness. Almost no one is unaffected by it.
Political action targeted unconcerned administrations and mismanaged research. Developments in the medical field now offer hope to those who escaped the early ravage of the disease with the prospect of a full life; because of this, many young people have become careless or imprudent in their sexual activities. HIV continues to be transmitted and AIDS continues to affect many — especially the disenfranchised — in the U.S. and in the world.
My personal experience stems from being a buddy early on for people stricken with the illness and providing care to partners and friends, from joining ACT UP to demonstrate against the inefficacies of government and medical research, from marching in New York City’s Gay Pride raising consciousness within the community and from living in a community where HIV was a reality almost every day of one’s life.
I photographed what I saw. As time passed, the images became a part of history — not only my history, but the history of a group of people who have fought and struggled to acquire the medical care and social, legal and political rights that were taken for granted by others.
Individual experience became a universal chronicle of AIDS. Recognizing this work as important was only possible after the significance and magnitude of the images became clear and after years passed and emotions subsided. These images reflect my personal experience of being, looking, feeling and recording the AIDS crisis in my community and the larger gay community. It was imperative, however, that the photographs transcend the nostalgic – they had to become collectively relevant. At the same time, my approach as participant-observer would allow for an intimacy as well as universality in the images.
Nota Bene: All persons represented in this project are not necessarily HIV+ or are infected with the AIDS virus. These photographs are intended to illustrate the social and sexual culture in the gay community during the early years of AIDS.