by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Six weeks ago, more than 120 people across America captured a moment of their day to show the world the challenges and resolve of living with HIV. The poignant images and powerful stories of September 21, 2011, are now captured in a photo essay, A Day with HIV in America, and are available online at www.adaywithhivinamerica.com.
The individuals, couples, families, and groups in these photographs, whether HIV-negative or positive, represent a collective portrait of what it means to live with or care for someone with HIV.
'The goal of this online exhibition is to help remove the stigma of HIV by shining a light on everyday people coping with the virus, and to advance a community of understanding, care, and support,' said Jeff Berry, editor of Positively Aware, the magazine that published the photo essay.
Some of the photographs share very private moments in a day of living with HIV. Donna Dane, an HIV-positive mom from Lee's Summit, Missouri, tells her young son goodnight. Ron Hudson from Durham, North Carolina, HIV-positive for more than 26 years, gives himself an insulin shot to battle the diabetes he acquired while taking antiretroviral drugs. Jonathan Reitan, HIV-positive for five years, fatigued from his daily course of medications, is pictured resting in the arms of his partner, Jonathon Broadwater, who is HIV-negative.
Many individuals chose this photo essay as a way to say, 'Please look at me, I have something important to share.' Justin B. Terry-Smith of Washington, D.C., a self-described 'cyber HIV activist,' holds a children's book he authored, I Have a Secret. The Reverend Andrena Ingram from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is shown attending a church conference in Orlando, Florida in a striking black-and-white photograph, except for the color of her bright red 'HIV Positive' T-shirt, as she stands among her ministerial peers. Kenneth from Indiana, holding his pill box with his daily regimen of medication, said, 'This is the first time I have ever submitted a picture of myself acknowledging to the world that I live with HIV.'
'As I look at these photographs, I'm taken by both the common, day-to-day lives of everyone; people at home, with their families, at work,' said Chuck Panozzo, the bassist of the band Styx and himself HIV-positive. 'Yet there's a great sense of courage and strength overlying all these images.'
Panozzo is an active supporter of the A Day with HIV in America project, having submitted a photograph of himself for last year's essay.
Some of the submitted photographs were of groups of people, like the staff on the steps of the Wright House Wellness Center in Austin, Texas, or members of the Black Treatment Advocates Network in Los Angeles, California. These and other groups wanted to share the word about their work in supporting the HIV/AIDS community.
The subjects of the photographs range from the notable, including Illinois State Representative Greg Harris, one of only two state legislators in the U.S. who is openly HIV-positive, to people such as Velietta Dickens Rogers, who led a very sheltered life because of her HIV. Rogers, pictured painting at an easel, described how the Stewpot Art Program in Dallas, Texas, 'brought me out of the seclusion of my home where I've been for 18 years' after being diagnosed with HIV.
Thirty-one images were selected from more than 160 submitted to be included in the November-December issue of Positively Aware. Many more of these photographs are available online at the A Day with HIV in America website.
Perhaps the image that best sums up the sentiments expressed by the participants is one from a woman in the Bronx, New York. The image obscures her full face, and words on an ad placard above her head are cropped to say, 'Learn. Acting.'
'I love that phrase,' she says. 'Having HIV and not being public about it sometimes feels like I am acting. Today I hope, by being a powerful example, I can erode the misconceptions and dismantle the stigma, and say this is a day with HIV in America.'
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