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Photography is a way to share ideas, emotions and experiences. It is a way to record, report, and inform. Photography overcomes the barriers of language and distance. It is a universal way of communicating.
I began this project in 1989 in New York City. After the death of my partner to complications from AIDS, I became involved with the AIDS activist group, ACT UP New York. They would meet every Monday night at the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center on West 13th Street. The intensity of the first few meetings was intimidating. I would leave after about 30 minutes, thinking that everyone was crazy and I would never fit in. But I kept going back and began to understand the scope, tragedy, and the urgency of fighting the AIDS Crisis.
The idea for the AIDS activist project began during an ACT UP meeting. I was listening to presentations by these people who had become my family, these intelligent, brave and heartfelt people. It struck me that the media and public did not see them as I did, preferring to call them sinners, lawbreakers and disease carriers. I wanted the world to see these people as I did: Heroes fighting for their lives, putting their bodies on the line, searching for a cure. Knowing the power of the photographic image, I decided to photograph as many of my comrades as possible. Not in the streets protesting, but in quiet moments, so that people could see the personal side of AIDS activism.
From 1989 to 1998, I took photos for the AIDS activist project. As a photographer, I knew this was something that had to be shared, reported and recorded. ACT UP expanded far beyond the founding chapter in New York City, spreading across the U.S. and around the world. I traveled to San Francisco, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Atlanta, Miami and Puerto Rico to photograph other ACT UP members. I then had the opportunity to shoot portraits at the 1992 International Conference on AIDS in Amsterdam, and at the 1993 conference in Berlin. I also traveled to Paris to photograph members of ACT UP Paris.
This project became my obsession. I was reminded of the urgency every time one of my subjects had died, another fallen soldier to the epidemic.
After a decade of AIDS activism, I placed my work in storage. But I knew that it deserved to be seen. In 2011, Fales Library and Collections acquired the entire collection of 225 portraits, personal statements, and negatives, where it is now part of The Downtown Collection. I’d like to thank Marvin Taylor, head of Fales Library, for supporting me in my mission.