Gideon Mendel. Through Positive Eyes

The projects official website describes the site as:

Through Positive Eyes gives photographic voice to people living with HIV in major cities around the world. It is based on the belief that HIV-positive people should pick up their own cameras and make their own artistic statements. In doing so, they create powerful tools for combating stigma, which is one of the most formidable barriers in reducing the spread of AIDS today.

Over two years, HIV-positive people in six countries and five continents took part in creating photographic essays on their lives. The project tells their stories individually, but links them on the website. To my surprise, it groups the people in to small groups. Titles like location, age groups such as Under 20, and 21-30, gender and disabilities are used. My first assumption would’ve been that this project was meant to bring the positive people together, so I was interested to find out why these sections had been put in place.

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Cleverson Rio de Janeiro

I first went on the Age, Under 20 section which holds 5 individual projects.  I went through the story of Cleverson, a 19 year old from Rio. He is homosexual, and also lights up under this section. The video simply talks about when he was diagnosed, in factual terms, and then goes on to promoting a happy life. He preaches that you should live as a normal person, not as if you are dying. The video was very casually filmed, with him speaking in his native language with English subtitles. Occasionally, stills from his images were put in to the video to create pauses or add context. The two images below, are stills from the project, provided by Cleverson. Interestingly, I find the images more emotive than the video, as the video was mainly factual, although he adds details of how he doesn’t like taking his tablets, there is no emotive value or change in tone to support this. But in the images, some are staged to directly provoke the viewer, such as the first image in which he is staring at his pills which have been spilled out on to the table, making the viewer realise that his life depends on the pills. Simple frames such as the toothbrushes make a big statement because it shows a connection between the two males. It is a frame that everyone can relate too, living with someone and having personal items such as this together. I would’ve thought that Cleverson would’ve had an input in the making of the video, but it doesn’t state this in the credits. He would’ve only provided the information on his life, and the images, with no creative control over the final edit of the video.


Cida Rio de Janeiro

1aCida is one of seventeen people in Rio de Janeiro that shared their stories in 2009. She too, participated in the project by providing her own photographs of what life is like for her. I feel that Cida approach’s the project in a wider sense, as she concentrates on how her family support her, saying she wouldn’t be able to do it without them. It attacks stigmas such as not touching people with HIV, presenting an image of overlapping hands, but not identifying whom they belong to, it suggests they are all the same. The selfies of her smiling, suggests a happy lifestyle, something that she wants to present to her viewers. I prefer how Cida’s images aren’t staged like Cleverson’s, although she may be posing, the image hasn’t been set up to make the viewer feel bad, but to consider her happy lifestyle.

On Mendel’s official photography site, he shows a still image with a body of text for each person. The images are very ambiguous, and it truly portrays how important the stories of the people are. We dont always see a portrait of them, just something like their hand, and from this we begin to connect with the person. Mendel uses direct quotes from the person, such as

Lynnea, Los Angeles, May 2011

“A lot of times people give me more sympathy than they give someone who has contracted HIV through drug use or sexual activities, because I was born HIV-positive. They say it’s not my fault and I didn’t ask for it. But who asks for HIV? The only difference between me and other HIV-positive people is that I don’t know life without it.

“When I was seven years old, my sister told me I was positive. I ran into the kitchen crying, and asked my mum why she hadn’t told me I was going to die. My mum said that as long as I saw her getting herself together every day, taking care of me and my three siblings, I didn’t have to worry about dying. Because she had AIDS, and AIDS is worse than HIV.

The quotes are raw, they say facts that could pain some people. But because they are so direct, you cant help but read, and learn about the situation.

I think this works so well as a participatory project. It has such a large scope around the globe, that the use of people creating their own photographs presents a sense of similarity between all of the people. They all are documenting their lives and telling a story, in a way they usually wouldn’t. It is empowering to know so many people were motivated to be part of this project. I am learning to differentiate factual text and text that is used to provoke the reader.


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