about the project

Available for purchase here


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.

Corinna Gekeler

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.

To purchase the book click here.

-Bill Bytsura




10 thoughts on “about the project

  1. Hello from Perth Australia,can you give me the publisher of the
    Book? Is it coming to Australia,were can i get a copy.
    Thank you.

    • Hi Stephen, thanks for the message from Australia! In 1994, I think thats the right year, 4 portraits from tis series were included in the exhibition, “Don’t Leave Me This Way, Art in the Age of AIDS”. I was very happy to know they were being seen on the other side of the globe.

      I did inquire about the shipping to Australia, it would be around $35.00 to ship, But I can send it to anywhere in the world. If the cost is ok, I can send one out to you. Just go to billbytsura.com to order, it will tell you what the shipping will be before you confirm your order

      Or Maybe someday soon, I’ll be hosting an event in Australia, you never know!

  2. I ordered this at the library where I work and they have purchased it. Can’t wait to get my hold. My father’s brother died of AIDS in 89, the year before I was born. He was not an activist, just a man. Still, I like to be able to access information about this period in our history because it is relatively unknown to me, even with the direct results visible in my family.

    • Hi Elizabeth, I sent this out earlier this week. You should get it any day now, Thank you for supporting the project.

      I hope that this book fills in another piece of the story for many people. It’s important for people t know how we got here from the days when an AIDS diagnosis was a death sentence. A lot of people fought to change things and their efforts paid off.

      Please accept my heartfelt sympathy for the loss of your Uncle. But he was not just a man, his life and death inspired others to act, he was an inspiration to many.
      Bill Bytsura

  3. Thank You So Much for doing the project and recording this history. I am working on a film documentary about an AIDS Activist with ACT UP/Los Angeles and am wondering if there is a list of the people you photographed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *