Photographing LGBTQ+ Activists

Rainbow Flag at Night

On art and activism, collectives and community responses

“[…] Everything about the political and social engagement is part of a process of collaboration,” artist, activist, and author Avram Finkelstein once told me during an interview for A&U Magazine . “That’s what communities and community responses are. That’s what activism is. Activism is a community response to something. So, in a way, I feel that the collective, even if it’s a tiny collective, is a bell jar. An experiment in collectivity is an experiment in activism.”

"What Is Undetectable?" flash collective cards. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Undetectable Flash Collective“What Is Undetectable?” Photo by Alina Oswald.

Then, last year, when we talked again for A&U’s World Pride 2019 cover story, Finkelstein reminded me that “collectives are organisms,” and that “our commons is an exercise in activism.”

I met Avram Finkelstein in person in 2014, when I became a member of the Undetectable flash collective. That’s when I first heard him talk about art and activism and truly understood the meaning of activism. It was a significant “a-ha” moment for me, one that I’ll never forget.

I believe that learning about a community includes learning about its activists, about the pioneers who oftentimes put their own lives in danger to bring about much-needed change…for the better. Over the years I’ve had the chance to interview and photograph amazing activists, inspiring individuals with lives and stories we can always learn from.

  • LGBTQ/HIV advocate, Athelete Ally & Vietnam Relief Ambassador Amazin LeThi photographed by Alina Oswald for A&U Magazine.
  • Actor and Comedian Steven Hayes, TOQ at the Movies. Photographed for A&U Magazine by Alina Oswald.
  • Omar Garcia. Photographed for A&U Magazine by Alina Oswald.
  • Actor, LGBTQ activist and celebrity host Ron B in NYC at MNN on the set of Ron B’s show, No Boundaries, Up Close and Personal. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
  • Photographing Art from the Heart owner, award-winning filmmaker, and LGBTQ+ and HIV/AIDS activist Wolfgang Busch at The A List award ceremony 2021, in Long Island, NY.
  • Nancy Duncan, longtime HIV survivor and advocate, photographed and interviewed for A&U Magazine.
  • HIV activist Ken Pinkela photographed for A&U Magazine by Alina Oswald.
  • Activist Jennifer Flynn Walker photographed for originally for A&U Magazine by Alina Oswald.
  • Author, artist, activist, co-founder of Silence = Death, Avram Finkelstein photographed for A&U Magazine. Photo by Alina Oswald.
  • Award-winning performing artist and HIV/AIDS advocate, Rev. Yolanda, photographed and interviewed in NYC’s Washington Square Park, for A&U Magazine—America’s AIDS Magazine. ©Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
  • U = U and HIV/AIDS Activist Bruce Richman photographed by Alina Oswald for A&U Magazine.

I’ve followed their work over the years. Some I know personally, and had the honor to cover over the years. Others, I’ve photographed as part of events and happenings I’ve reported on. Each and every one of them has inspired my life and my own work. I’m forever grateful!

So, how does one photograph activists?

Start by learning about their individual stories, their communities, and the causes they fight for. Listen and learn, to understand what motivates their fight, to better comprehend it and the passion that fuels it. Use that fight and that passion as inspiration for your own work.

Keep creating, keep documenting life and storytelling, and be safe out there.

As always, thanks for stopping by!

Alina Oswald

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