Photographing LGBTQ+ Activists

On art and activism, collectives and community responses

“[…] Everything about political and social engagement is a 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.

Visual Impact: On Art, AIDS and Activism. NYC. June 2019.

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.

Here are only a few examples:

  • Actor Steve Hayes photographed by Alina Oswald for A&U Magazine.
  • U = U and HIV/AIDS Activist Bruce Richman photographed by Alina Oswald for A&U Magazine.
  • Avram Finkelstein photographed for the June 2019 cover of A&U Magazine by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
  • Rev. Yolanda photographed for A&U Magazine--America's AIDS Magazine by Alina Oswald.
  • Ron B at Brooklyn Pride 2019
  • LGBTQ/HIV advocate, Athelete Ally & Vietnam Relief Ambassador Amazin LeThi photographed by Alina Oswald for A&U Magazine.
  • Actor and advocate William Harrell, photographed by Alina Oswald for A&U Magazine
  • Daniel Szymczyk Founder/CEO of The HIV League 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 have inspired my life and my own work. I’m forever grateful!

So, how does one photograph activists?

Start by learning about their individual stories, about 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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