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. Thats 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 didnt. 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 couldnt
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
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 its not
a Big Media story. People are much more interested in Julia Robertss
teeth than they are in peoples disease. The media is not particularly
interested in dealing with AIDS in any serious way at this point. Theres
no room for it. It doesnt 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,
its 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
theres more going on in video and film.