DUANE MICHALS was among the first artists in the early 1980s commissioned to create photographic work dealing with the AIDS crisis (for ARTFORUM):

I can’t help but think that unless you’re the most frivolous of contemporary artists you wouldn’t have addressed AIDS in some way over the last 20 years. Unless you’re so oblivious to others’ lives, self-indulgent, dedicated only to your career and isolated in your egomania to become famous, you would’ve had to address the issue. Anybody with feeling in the art world has contributed in terms of auctions, in terms of doing work that touches upon the subject.

And yet very few photographers or artists working with photographs, especially big-name people, are doing anything visible or public about it. The people getting $250,000 for a photograph, I don’t see them doing anything. I’m being critical here. The whole world has a responsibility to respond to it and help raise consciousness about it. You’ve got to be heartless not to, in the heart of a plague.

As a gay person myself, I’m somewhat of an anomaly in the sense that I haven’t known 60 people who’ve died. But I did address the issue on a couple of occasions, not so much in showing the ravages of AIDS but in trying to deal with the tragic nature of it and how it affects people. Doing the work is important. But as to its impact, I’m not sure that it alters government spending or that it holds any political weight with those people who make the decisions about AIDS.

What photography about AIDS has done is to make people who are alone realize that there are supportive people out there. It reinforces the network. It gives consolation and support to people in need.

Visit the Friends in Deed website: