MARVIN HEIFERMAN, curator, photo historian and co-founder of LOOKOUT, helped organize the seminal exhibition and portfolio, 'The Indomitable Spirit,' which raised $2 million via Photographers + Friends United Against AIDS:

Photographers + Friends United Against AIDS was started by Joe Hartney, a photographers’ rep, who looked around in 1988 or ‘89 and saw that many groups of creative people had responded to the AIDS crisis, but he found it amazing and hard to believe that the photography world had not done anything yet in any kind of organized way. He decided he would start this organization. He was a very convincing, willful person, as some HIV-positive people can be, although I wasn't aware of his health status at the time.

Joe was able to pull together an extraordinary bunch of people to try to raise money for AIDS research and eduction, and to raise awareness through photography. That’s what we did - - we being Lisa Cremin, Andy Grunberg, Phil Block from the International Center of Photography, commercial photographer Joe Standart, dealers Brent Sikkema and Peter MacGill, AIDS activist Michael Seltzer who was very savvy about foundation support and other friends of Joe's (lawyers, ad executives and interested parties). We tried to figure out what kind of project we could do that would make sense. With all the ‘concerned photography’ in the world, what could we do that would make a difference?

What we decided to do was create an exhibition. They asked if I would curate it. The exhibition, called ‘The Indomitable Spirit,’ was a collection of works on AIDS-related themes. We decided to invite 94 photographers and artists (who used photographic imagery in their work) to participate. Then we auctioned off all of the photographs in the project. We also produced two limited-edition portfolios, a number of which we sold into the art and photography market. We raised $2 million in a couple of years.

It was an amazing process to see what kinds of images photographers were making, who was speaking directly to this issue, who speaking about it metaphorically, who cared deeply, who didn’t. Ultimately, it was an extraordinary experience. We did everything from fund needle-exchange programs to educational programs in public schools. For me, I had a lot of friends who had died of AIDS and many of them were photographers. I knew people whose careers were now effectively over because they couldn’t work and when they died there was really no one to handle their estate or to promote their work in order to keep it visible in a very distracted visual world.

That project was important to me because it was the first time I actually understood that I could use photography in a way to literally do something in the real world.

Basically, AIDS is still a huge issue, everywhere, but it’s not a Big Media story. People are much more interested in Julia Roberts’s teeth than they are in people’s disease. The media is not particularly interested in dealing with AIDS in any serious way at this point. There’s no room for it. It doesn’t buy eyes. So what can be done now to give photography a role in this regard? There are no significant photography magazines that have any kind of audience. There are no picture magazines. So I think that just as AIDS started as a community-based experience, it’s probably back there again. If photographic images were to be used, they might best be used on-line on websites, in grass-roots ways, on posters that are sniped at night, in very local programs. Given the lack of support mechanism for showing photography and given the power that moving images have over still images in our world, maybe there’s more going on in video and film.

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