A good friend of mine, Harold, took the opportunity to see the International AIDS Conference on the day SMART had there bus ride.
Here is his take on the conference.
(Disclaimer: He is not from the UK, he just likes to use Lad and Lass)
Honestly I have no clue how I get myself involved in these trips on the east coast to experience movements and conferences; but one thing is always certain, my camera is definitely within my grips. To be completely honest, I always felt that I had little to no connection at all towards the HIV/AIDS issue, or so I thought. Due to meeting a few people affected by the virus, especially thanks to one young lass, I suddenly feel enveloped in the subject.
To be more specific I’m interested in the criminalization issues concerning how countries persecute and/or treat victims or infected folks that have contracted deadly viruses and bacterias. To see what those in power are willing to do to preserve themselves is quite remarkable, sad, but still remarkable, even more so when you’re able to capture that moment in an image.
I traveled as a guest with the organization SMART Youth to attend to the International AIDS Conference, in Washington D.C. I think one of the most memorable parts of the trip was the bus ride itself. (Seeing how we spent most of the day in that bus, seems logical)
I met the most intriguing of characters in this bus, and I must say I really am happy I decided to get up that morning to do so. It was aprox. a five hour trip with five lads and an army of… lively woman! Talking to these women on the way to the event and even on the way home really humanized these issues; issues I’ve studied and heard so much about concerning the virus.
The stories, hardships, and that determination to do something about this disease that have snatched the lives of so many really hit home. Rather than moping around feeling sorry for themselves, they act. Which can not only have the potential to move mountains- but people that actually lend them their ears for just a second and process what emotions they had to endure and still endure. It’s not one of those moments where you feel sorry for them and move on with your daily lives, instead these were stories that inspire and cause one to really value every spec of health you may possess, and ask yourself why, and be grateful. Suddenly you feel like doing something about it; which you as an individual can and should. Of course that’s why SMART Youth was established.
When we arrived with our sore rumps and backs due to excess sitting, we made our way to the “Global Village”. I can’t help but feel, and excuse the insensitivity, but as if I was a Comic Con… but for AIDS. It had that exciting atmosphere, which is good (hopefully that last comment put me in the clear). Sadly… there was very little to shoot with my beloved camera. So I was given a grand tour by a very busy young woman, who had my complete attention. Seeing how I was mostly interested in the Arts in the event she wisely took me to the best locations exhibiting them. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to see such beautiful works of art for whatever reason that was, but I did and it made the trip a greater one.
The top two photographers that had me in a good trance were Cameron Wolf and Misha Friedman. Cameron Wolf had stupendous shots of young men in the shots named “The Lotus” and “Vishnu Garuda”. Though they were more on the fine art department of photos they were still intriguing. The lighting, the subject themselves, and the action was all splendid. If I had more time I would have attended an event that they held with Wolf. But we don’t always get what we want, now do we?
Next up is the mysterious Misha Friedman, a photographer whose photos are my cup of tea. He doesn’t name his photos but that’s even better. It makes you name them yourself, thus making it have more of an impact and causes you to remember the image and the feelings it invoked. Misha’s photos were of a series of how Russia treated patients with TB, HIV and AIDS. They were taken with B&W film and some digital by what I can tell, of course taking it in B&W makes it more dramatic. One shot in particular caught my eye for simple reasons. I called it “The Nurse”. The lighting, the shadows, and the atmosphere that was captured within this shot… it’s just amazing. You really feel like you’re in a cold place. (Russia!) You ponder what the nurse is holding in her hand, what type of files are those? How is it categorized? Why is it being placed in a corner? Is it being placed in a corner? Does the nurse sympathize with the patients? OR is she the nurse that raises hell?
The next image was used as an ad for a screening at the Global Village the day before I arrived. A really emotional and powerful image, and to top it off it has the word “Undefeated” as if the image wasn’t enough. Guess it’s a movie or documentary on the life stories of young people, one in particular and I’m assuming it’s the girl in the photo. The story goes: She lives in London and is caught in a dilemma with a school secretary who exposes her secret (her having the Virus). Now she has to face her future, her friends, and herself… something I can imagine all who have this disease must face.
So here I am, today, (August 9th) at five in the morning, wondering what more can I say. I wanted to write how I bumped into an old colleague at the conference and how by bumping into him I was able to snap shots of Juanes (A well-known Colombian singer) but it feels irrelevant for some odd reason.
I always lived life behind the lens. I’m there, but not emotionally. I see, but I don’t do. I wanted a subject to cover and I think I found a lead… thanks to all this. Despite my change in major with school, I still want to document stories with this camera and have it accompanied with words. To tear down these drapes of fear and unravel the minds of those who do not understand because of lack of knowledge. Those less informed fear and they react… let alone if it doesn’t hit home to them, it’s normal really. With an image you can tell a story, and with a story you can teach and share an experience that could change a life or two and cause a dominoes effect.
These people that I have met, this one girl that lives on with struggles and keeps on going well or not… moved me. Me, a man who I have always considered to be an insensitive and cynical person, has made me value my time, my health, my surroundings and those who I keep close. Most of all, they have embedded this new sensation to teach and inform. Either when I jump in that Ambulance or come out with my camera… I know this feeling will accompany me.
Wow. Didn’t intend to get all sappy there. Bottom line is, I gained something irreplaceable by informing myself and humanizing the virus. I have a new motive to achieve. I have heard stories that I am sure I won’t forget anytime soon. Above all, I have found a new sense of compassion of all those men and woman who carry a heavy burden and still manage to see a positive out of all the pain and still try to aid others so they may never know such pain.Though I may not have this virus, I’ll certainly do my best to do something to aid those in need against this deadly foe or any epidemic. Inform, teach, listen, follow and if you’re up to it lead. Never judge and never falter.