What to Photograph: The NYC AIDS Memorial

NYC AIDS Memorial. Photo by Alina Oswald.

Shape and Form: Photographing the New York City AIDS Memorial

I write this on June 5, 2019, the National HIV/AIDS Long-Term Survivors Awareness Day. Those living in or around NYC area might be aware of the NYC AIDS Memorial located around the corner from The Center and St. Vincent’s Hospital in the West Village.

The other day I found myself in Manhattan, for a full day of meetings and events, and ended up having a couple of hours to spare. And so, I decided to wander around the city, after all I rarely have time to do that nowadays.

And so, while on my way to Cooper Square to attend a Public Art Fund panel discussion (artist and activist Avram Finkelstein was one of the panelists), I stopped by The Center, and, while there, checked out the NYC AIDS Memorial and the Visual Impact: On Art, AIDS,and Activism displayed right next to it. Visual Impact is a public art installation showing eight notable AIDS activist artworks, including my favorites–Undetectable and, in particular, Silence = Death.

In this post, let’s talk about photographing the NYC AIDS Memorial, itself. The New York City AIDS Memorial is a beautiful, intriguing, fascinating and somber piece of art. Its unusual shape makes it quite interesting to photograph it, in particular with an iPhone (smartphone).

Visual Impact: On Art, AIDS, and Activism public art installation displayed at the NYC AIDS Memorial. Photo by Alina Oswald.

So, how to photograph the NYC AIDS Memorial and tell the whole story? Good question.

Aerial shots would be interesting, but not possible, not unless you use a drone (and it’s not allowed to use a drone in the city in the first place) or photograph from a nearby high-rise building.

Also, being a memorial in public spaces, it’s difficult to eliminate all the distractions.

It just happened that I found myself at the NYC AIDS Memorial on a bright, sunny and clear early afternoon, without my camera (hence, without a wide-angle lens or any lens at all). All I had was my iPhone.

The NYC AIDS Memorial. The Visual Impact panels can be noticed through the memorial. Photo by Alina Oswald.

And so, I walked around the memorial, trying to figure out how to photograph it and the neighboring art panels on the sidewalk. I snapped a few detail shots of the memorial–names, shapes, shadows–included the name of the memorial itself, as well as space surrounding the memorial, to give a sense of (time and) place; considered different vantage points and tried not to be in anybody’s way.

Take your time to photograph details as well as “the big picture.” Sometimes we have to “discover” the story as we photograph it, “reveal” the story as we photograph it. Tell the story!

Here are a few more images:

NYC AIDS Memorial. Photo by Alina Oswald.
NYC AIDS Memorial. Photo by Alina Oswald.
NYC AIDS Memorial. Photo by Alina Oswald.
NYC AIDS Memorial. Photo by Alina Oswald.

As always, thanks for stopping by!

Alina Oswald


  1. What in interesting piece of art to photograph and I agree – getting up close and photographing the details can make for some intriguing images.


    1. Hi Vicki, and thank you so much for your kind words. Yes, the NYC AIDS Memorial has an intriguing shape, one that makes it kinda tough to photograph. Personally, I love the geometry, but to photograph it from up close, without an ultra-wide angle lens (or a fish-eye lens), it’s tricky. Speaking of fish-eye lens, not that would help create an interesting picture of the memorial. That said, I’ll stop day dreaming, lol!, and with the gear that I have, I have no choice but stick with photographing details. It still makes for an interesting experience. Thanks again very much! Appreciate it!


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