NANCY BURSON, conceptual artist and photographer, educator and healer, did pioneering work on morphing and aging:

My photography tends to be about shifting people’s vision. With my AIDS virus poster, created in 1991, I wanted to give people a device that could be an educational tool: This is what the AIDS virus looks like. I focused on a healthy version of what a T-cell would look like and contrasted it with an AIDS-infected T-cell. The imagery, which is color-enhanced, was created with an electron microscope, photographed in collaboration with Kunio Nagashima, the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute and Hitachi. The resulting poster (distributed by Gay Men’s Health Crisis; sponsored by Creative Time, a public art project organization) was plastered all over SoHo and parts of Chelsea. It was used around the country in schools and prisons.

In terms of illness, it’s very empowering to very specifically visualize what afflicts you. So for me, the photographs were an empowerment device for people to be able to see exactly what’s going on in their bodies. Instead of using pictures of T-cells for diagnostic purposes, they were utilized as tools of enlightenment, tools for consciousness. I hoped that people would take these images, embed them in their minds and utilize them to help them heal. Visualization is empowerment. You can take these things into your body in a certain way that can make a positive impact on your health. I know that these photographs have been successful in doing that from the feedback I’ve received over the years. People are enlightened by seeing the virus, and instead of concentrating on that negative image, they can go on to focus on what healthy T-cells look like. Healthy T-cells - - the keys to your immune system - - are empowering to look at even if you’ve got a cold.

I would love to feel that in this modest way, photography, at the very least, helped prolong a few lives. Even if you impact one person, you’ve done something.

Visit the Gay Men's Health Crisis website