POSITIVELY AWARE NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2010
A picture perfect day
by Jeff Berry
On Tuesday, September 21, Individuals from around the country came together to form a community, if only for a day, to take part in the Positively Aware photo essay A Day with HIV in America.
A Day with HIV in America is as much about the stories behind the pictures, as it is about the pictures themselves. These are the untold stories of everyday people like you and me, who are bound to together by a common thread.
There is Martin from the U.K., who was planning to visit the U.S. on that day and asked if he could participate in the project. And Mark, HIV-positive for 22 years, who fights for LGBT people living with mental health and substance abuse issues and at risk for suicide.
Then there is Andrew, HIV-positive for three years, who lives a normal, healthy, and “inspired” life and says “there can be so many difficult days, but way more great days that make life all the more worth living.” And Patricia, HIV-positive for seven years, hiking in the mountains of Utah with her dog Rusty.
The seeds for A Day with HIV in America were first planted at a planning meeting back in August, when we were having a discussion about what we would like to do for World AIDS Day in this issue. PA Art Director Rick Guasco came up with the idea of a photo essay that would take place on one day, and would invite participants to answer the question, “What does it mean to live with HIV?” Having virtually no budget for the project, and very little lead time, but armed with a whole lot of enthusiasm and passion, we proceeded “full-tilt boogie” with the one-day project.
I’m going to spare you the many details and minutiae of how it all played out, but suffice it to say that one of the most important lessons I learned was the true value of combining the power of social media with a really good idea. Facebook, and “the Twitter,” as Betty White would say, suddenly made sense to me in the context of this project. It was amazing to watch how quickly an idea whose time has come can spread using social media in a cohesive and well thought out manner. Social media is not for everyone, or everything, for that matter, but it seemed a perfect fit for a visual campaign seeking to raise awareness while creating a sense of community, and showing us that no one is alone in this fight—we have a much stronger voice when we find ways in which we can work together.
The responses, as you’ll see, were as varied as the people whose lives are touched by HIV—and we truly are all affected in one way or another. A Day with HIV in America, for me, underscored that point again and again.
While I’d like to let the pictures speak for themselves, I keep being drawn back to the stories. One of the many great things that have come about during this project are the new friendships that I and others here at Positively Aware have formed as a result. One new friend, and someone who truly inspires me, is Chuck Panozzo.
Chuck, as many of you may know, is the bass player and co-founder of the rock band Styx. I was in high school and college when Styx was in their heyday, and I came of age—and also came out as a gay man—around the time their album “The Grand Illusion” was popular. I was forwarded a recent story about Chuck as this project was getting off the ground, and decided to reach out and ask him if he’d like to participate. He immediately responded and said he’d be happy to take part.
In talking with Chuck on the phone over the next few weeks, and after emailing back and forth a few times, I found out about some of the great work he does educating and advocating for people with HIV. I also learned how sick with AIDS he became at one point, and how difficult it was for him to come out as gay and HIV-positive in an industry that was, and can still be, very homophobic, and AIDS-phobic. Thus began a new friendship, and another very valuable lesson learned: Things are never as they appear, and don’t ever judge a book by its cover.
Thank you to everyone who took part in A Day with HIV in America. I’m humbled and grateful to each and every person who participated, and for their bravery, courage, and willingness to stand up and be counted—as the saying goes, there’s safety in numbers. I hope you are as moved and inspired by the stories behind the pictures as I am, and please don’t forget to go online to www.adaywithhiv.com, where you will see all of the many wonderful stories and photos that were shared.
Take care of yourself, and each other.