Courage in the Face of AIDS
By Carolyn Jones
Artabras Copyright © 1996 Carolyn Jones
All rights reserved.
Excerpt from: Living Proof: Courage in the Face of AIDS
Foreword by Ian McKellen
Looking at this collection of photographs for the first time, you ask yourself, "What do these people have in common?" At first glance, the answer might seem trivial. These ordinary-looking people—so like our friends and acquaintances—reveal few hints of home, income, or lifestyle. Maybe they just share a birthday or a passion for ice cream. Have they, perhaps, all met the president or the Pope or each other? That might be it: they could all live in the same town. Would anyone ever have guessed that these people share a virus? Take a second look, then a third.
Each of them was invited to a completely bare studio, where there were no distractions in the background. In the photographs, they clearly wear their own clothes, exhibiting a relaxation that those black-and-white ads for jeans never quite achieve. These are not models, they are not on display. They do, however, all seem to want to be photographed. No doubt Carolyn Jones put them at ease. But they haven't just been captured by her loving camera; they have captivated her lens. Their charisma has put them in control. That is what vitally connects them—not just the shared virus but a self-confidence about the disease and about life; they communicate a tremendous sense of exhilaration. These are not ordinary people after all.
Before HIV/AIDS had an official name, all we heard were confusing rumors. The virus was called the "gay cancer"; it came from monkeys, from Africans, from Haitians; it had escaped from a madman's laboratory. None of it seemed real enough to be our personal concern. By the time the media admitted that it was the story of the century, we were being encouraged to think that the disease was a punishment and that it had, somehow, been created by its carriers. That can be true of any plague, if we identify the carrier as ignorance and poverty and a belief that nothing can be done.
At the same time we read about "innocent victims": hemophiliacs infected by "poisoned" blood transfusions, babies infected by drug-addicted mothers. But as HIV/AIDS spread—especially throughout major metropolitan areas—more and more of us had friends who got sick, and famous people died. AIDS became a challenge. Money was raised for research, support groups were formed to provide care, and lobbies were created to persuade. Everyone, whether HIV positive or negative, had a story to tell. What moves me most about Carolyn Jones's portraits is that they tell no detailed stories, but they reveal everything about her subject's inner lives. Miraculously, she has photographed people's souls.
Nationalism flares up, famine rages, and the ozone layer burns. Yet, when history eventually passes judgment on our apocalyptic age, surely the decisive question will be: "What did they do about AIDS?" What did the United Nations do, across the world? What did the politicians do, nationally and locally? And the churches and commerce and the media? What did any of us do?
Even now, during the second decade of the pandemic, its clear that too many of us have done too little. But blame and anger are only part of the story. The whole truth of AIDS cant be found in the inertia of government, in the exaggerations of the media, or in the bigots lies. AIDS has unleashed great power in individuals and in groups—among people who have learned how to care and counsel, who have organized their consciences.
At the heart of the matter are the people who know the most about living with this disease—the people in this book. The truth about HIV/AIDS shines from their faces, bodies, hands, feet, and smiles, which have captivated the camera for our enlightenment.
London, 1993 (Continues...)
Excerpted from Living Proof by Carolyn Jones. Copyright © 1996 Carolyn Jones. Excerpted by permission of Artabras.
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