More Learning from Photographers

Open Book. B&W. ©Alina Oswald.

…the story behind my obsession with (photographing) the VFT carnivore plant

Here’s an excerpt from my book, JOURNEYS THROUGH DARKNESS: A BIOGRAPHY of award-winning, legally blind photographer Kurt Weston:

In 1993, Kurt Weston founded SWAN–Surviving With AIDS Network–a grassroots group that offered those living with HIV a safe place to be, socialize, and share their survival stories and experiences. [Many individuals attending the SWAN meetings were willing to try the most extreme alternative treatments because they had nothing to lose.]

Alternative treatments were very expensive and most patients, being on disability, didn’t have much money to spend on [these treatments], even on those that could potentially extend their lives. Besides, it would have been very time-consuming, plainly not smart, and simply not possible for each individual to experiment with every one of the available alternative treatments.

So, they decided to take turns. Each member of the SWAN group volunteered to try various [alternative treatments], and then get together and share [their experiences]. For example, one person would take herbs, another would attend an acupuncture session or try urine therapy, while yet another individual would go through a session of Ozone therapy or take yoga classes or massage therapy sessions. And then [they] would discuss and share their trials and thoughts with [the other members of the SWAN group].

Weston himself has tried some of the most extreme treatments […] because he “was willing to try anything.”

An alternative treatment SWAN members tried involved a substance called Carnivore, which was extracted from the Venus Fly Trap (Venus flytrap), or VFT, plant, the only carnivore plant in the world.

[There are several] varieties of VFT plants, and each is unique in its own way. VFT has very thick, fleshy leaves, or petals, with traps (or “teeth”) at their end. The plant can create a red pigment in its tissue, which is supposed to attract insects (some experts believe that it is also used to protect the plant from sunburn). When a fly lands on it, the petal closes and kills the fly with its “teeth,” and then digests the fly’s remains with the help of a special enzyme.

[During the early years of the HIV and AIDS epidemic, before the discovery of lifesaving HAART medications,] the theory was that this particular enzyme could help treat HIV. The belief was that the VFT plant enzyme would digest the protein in the HIV and therefore destroy the virus. Patients could buy [this virus-digesting substance] to give themselves Carnivore shots intramuscular or intravenous….


VFT carnivore plant. Hawaii botanical Garden. ©Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
VFT carnivore plant. Botanical Gardens, Hawaii. ©Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

Author’s Note:

More than a decade ago, while visiting Hawaii, I ended up on a guided tour through one of the Aloha State’s exotic botanical gardens (a must-visit, btw). That’s where I came face to face with one of the many varieties of Venus Flytrap carnivore plants, and that’s when Kurt’s story, shared above, came back to mind.

Upon closer look, the flower seemed to be resting in the sun, its petals appeared sticky, perhaps ready to trap their next prey. I only had time to take a quick picture, before having to rush to catch up with the rest of the group.

And, yes, this post is not about photography, per se, but I think it’s to show the many other things we can learn from photographers, their photographs, and related stories.

As always, thanks for stopping by,

Alina Oswald

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