Through Positive Eyes is a photography and storytelling project created in collaboration with 130 “artivists” living with HIV/AIDS. Spearheaded by photographer Gideon Mendel and David Gere, director of the UCLA Art & Global Health Center, the project is now published as a book by Aperture and on view at the Fowler Museum. The project serves “as a call to action to bring an end to the stigma of HIV,” writes Aperture in the press release.
Work on the project began in 2008 when Mendel and Gere organized workshops in ten cities around the world, where people with HIV were invited to make photo stories about their lives. Participants were taught photography, encouraged to photograph their lives and then interviewed. Work made by participants in workshops in Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Johannesburg, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Mumbai, Bangkok, Port-au-Prince, London and Durban has been used in public exhibitions and advocacy materials. The hope was that sharing experiences might help combat the stigma associated with the virus.
“Stigma grows out of fear, which prevents people from getting themselves tested and treated,” writes Gere. “By seeing these photographs and reading the accompanying stories, we can overcome fear and recognize our common humanity.”
In addition to the artivists’ photographs and stories, the book includes a foreword by actor and activist Richard Gere, an introductory dialogue between editors Mendel and Gere, and a poem by Mary Bowman, a participant in the Washington, D.C. workshop. “This publication serves as a testament to the resilient spirit of those facing the challenges of HIV and of Aperture’s belief in the power of photography to make change,” states Aperture.
In the exhibition, a multitude of voices coalesce around the core belief that challenging stigma is the most effective way to combat the epidemic. As a complement to the photographs and stories, the show features a sculpture installation by Los-Angeles-based multimedia artist Alison Saar. “Combined, these works conjure a broad picture of the epidemic—ranging from everyday imagery to more abstract meditations on joy, grief, solitude, and resilience,” writes the Fowler in the exhibition’s press release. Public programming for the exhibition incorporates live storytelling by seven HIV-positive people.
“Banishing stigma. That’s what Through Positive Eyes is all about,” writes Gere. “It is the most important thing we can do to stop the epidemic.”