Photographing HIV-inspired Art in NYC

Documenting June: Photographing HIV/AIDS-related events, capturing history in the making

Not all events are created equal. Some are more interesting than others. In order to be able to capture events in the best way possible (either in writing or in light), we need to find a way to best connect with our subject and the story we’re about to tell. That is not to say that we can always choose to, say, photograph, what we want. There will be plenty of times when we just have to cover an event, regardless of how much we like it or not, or how much we connect with the subject at hand or not. What we can do is try to figure out what makes us tick, what are the stories/subjects/events/causes that interest us the most, and try to focus on that, if possible.

For example, what interest me the most is documenting HIV and AIDS, as well as the LGBTQ communities.

Because of the subjects that I usually cover, June is a pretty busy month for me. And I like it that way.

June is an important month for me. It marks the beginning of summer, my favorite season. June is also Pride Month when I get to cover all kinds of interesting and exciting Pride-related events.

For many, June also marks the beginning of the AIDS crisis of the eighties and, in many ways perhaps, a countdown to a cure. This past week I got to be part of and cover, in words and light, several events related to HIV, AIDS, and related art and activism.

Two cents on photographing events, any kind of events:

When covering events, as photographers, we need to tell the entire story and document the entire event. So, here are a few things to consider while photographing events:

  • do your homework, research the event, get in touch with PR individuals or any other contact person, and ask for a media (or press) kit that gives you more information about the event
  • make sure you know when and where to go; check out the location and how to get there
  • check and prepare your photo and lighting gear, and make sure you bring the right gear; also, charge batteries, clean cards, clean camera sensors, and clean lenses; double-check what’s in your camera bag before you leave the house
  • make sure you arrive on time or, even better, a few minutes early
  • take a few images before the event begins and after it ends, make sure you tell the whole story
  • capture wide-angle shots, as well as close-ups
  • present the images in the order in which they tell the story
  • double-check the names of your subjects (and the spelling of those names), and list them in the image caption, as they appear in the image from left to right

Here are a few images from the AIDS, Art and Activism Today panel discussion that took place at the Museum of the City of New York, in Manhattan.

On the panel:

Reed Vreeland, an HIV-positive activist who has worked for The Sero Project, fighting HIV criminalization;

Kia LaBeija, a New York City artist whose work is featured in the Museum’s AIDS at Home exhibition (that I got to see after attending the panel discussion)

Avram Finkelstein, artist, writer, activist, founding member of Silence=Death collective, and author of After Silence: A History of AIDS Through Its Images, which is due out in November of this year. His work is also featured at the Museum of the City of New York, as part of the AIDS at Home exhibition.

Sarah Schulman, moderator, a novelist, playwright, historian, and lesbian rights activist.

After the panel discussion, there was a Q&A session. Some members of the audience asked questions. Others, like artist and activist Eric Rhein, delivered an emotional speech.

Here are a few images from the AIDS at Home at the Museum of the City of New York:

  • AIDS at Home at the Museum of the City of New York. B&W Photographs by Bill Bytsura, from the AIDS activist Project. Photo by Alina Oswald.

Thanks to Avram Finkelstein, I also got to attend events celebrating the thirty-year anniversary of Silence=Death poster, at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art.

Here are a few images:

I have to confess, I’ve been fascinated by the Silence = Death poster for a long time, way before meeting Avram Finkelstein in person, in 2014. It is a powerful and haunting reminder of our mortality, in general, not only that associated with the AIDS crisis.

While attending the Leslie-Lohman Museum summer benefit, I photographed the poster as it was displayed together with other artwork included in FOUND, an art show curated by Avram Finkelstein. I decided to include my reflection as part of the image, more as a reminder that, once, I came face to face with the Silence = Death poster.

Silence = Death poster at Live Loud Now summer benefit
Silence = Death poster displayed at Leslie-Lohman Museum, at the Live Loud Now summer benefit celebrating the thirty-year anniversary of the poster.

To learn more about the thirty-year anniversary of Silence=Death poster, check out my article posted on A&U’s website.

Happy Pride! Happy June!

As always, thanks for stopping by,

Alina Oswald

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.