Produced by David Friend
Executive Producer: David Snider
Graphics Editor: Carlyn Maw

Twenty years ago this month, it began as a ripple, one that would soon become a tidal wave. On June 5, 1981, an odd but troubling reference appeared in a journal published by the Centers for Disease Control, describing a rare form of pneumonia afflicting five gay men. By year's end, their ailment would be known as AIDS, a disease which would go on to claim 21 million lives over the next two decades.

Since 1981, photography has played a critical role in shaping public perception of AIDS. As a testament to the diversity and power of the medium in the face of the crisis, two dozen photographers, curators and industry experts have been asked to assess the changing impact of photography on AIDS -- and AIDS on photography - - over that 20-year span. In addition, the participants have each singled out a picture that has special resonance for them. Some discuss their own work in this context; others have chosen pivotal images in the history of the epidemic. (Click here to view RealVideo interviews with John Dugdale, Alon Reininger and Ingrid Sischy.)

As photographer Herb Ritts remarks, one of the legacies of AIDS has been the void it has left within the world of photography. "It's what you don't ever see," says Ritts. "The photography that hasn't been made. Photographs that will not be there on the walls. I just hope, 20 years from now, there's no 40-year reunion on this subject."

--David Friend is Vanity Fair's editor of creative development.

Today, more than 36 million people live with HIV/AIDS, 25 million in sub-Saharan Africa alone.

The Digital Journalist invites you to explore these links to other AIDS-related websites.

Your interest, your involvement and your contributions are encouraged and appreciated.

Read about the United Nations Declaration of Commitment on the global efort to eradicate AIDS.