Photographer 2 describes himself as a bookworm who is quiet, introverted, and likes solitude.
Vanessa. I love animals. And whenever I’m in pain, she’s always thereby my side. She doesn’t criticize, she comes with unconditional love, and she’s happy. That’s the way you want people to treat you, with unconditional love. Because if people loved you like your dog loves you, stigma would not exist. An animal doesn’t see HIV. An animal sees you as a person, as a human being, as a person who loves them, and they love you back.
I’m safe… Years ago people would be afraid to come up to people or come near people who had HIV. But the coffee cup represents, “Hey, I’m safe. I’m okay. And I am good.” And it reflects stigma because, “Why should I have to throw away a good cup of coffee? Stigma is an illusion of the other person, not of me. It doesn’t tell the story. The story is within. And the story goes deep. It is okay to be in a restaurant and to feel comfortable, you have to get out of your comfort zone. And what better way [than coffee] to get you out of your comfort zone and get others out of their comfort zone, so that they can get to know you. Having a good cup of coffee with someone who is non-positive also sparks a conversation. When you have a good, warm cup of coffee at a restaurant, you can just sit there, and take your mind off of what’s bothering you. A big cup of coffee just helps you release everything.
Grounded tree… If you know who you are on the inside, you owe no one around you any excuses. Educate yourself about your disease. That grounds you. The seeds are being planted. Once those seeds are in the ground, they begin to grow. And if you continue to learn and learn and learn, you become a tree of knowledge. You begin to learn a lot of information that can help others. People will see you as a strong person who can overcome and withstand any type of obstacle. I’m not a quitter. I’m here to stay. And even with the stigma, I know who I am. If you know who you are you have worth. That worth keeps you grounded. Surround yourself with strong people and information, and just stay there. Don’t move. If you go to the left or to the right, you might somehow bend over, and you may cause some type of, I can say, friction in your life. But if you just stand still and just say, “Hey, I’m just going to be grounded, and because if I’m grounded, I have strength, I have roots, that just holds me together.”
I never know how people are going to react to me. I say, “Hey, I’m HIV-positive.” You don’t know whether or not you’re going to be rejected. But this is my hope and my thought that once people get to know you and know your strength, they’re able to say, “Oh, okay. I understand now. I understand how they feel. I understand what they have gone through. I might not walk in their shoes, but I understand.” And I think that’s one of the things that we as a society have not done a great job of, telling that story, getting it out there that, “Look, I’ve never changed. I am still who I am. I’m still that same person. And you can still be my friend.”
Arsenal of information… I’ve always had a love for books. There is something about reading and gathering information and gathering resources that I love. A person who has a lot of resources around them can help others. Books have been my life, because words are knowledge, because it becomes a part of you. And when it’s a part of you, no one can take that knowledge from you. And as far as stigma, you can hold your head up. Because, number one, you surrounded yourself with an arsenal of information.
Don’t be afraid to go and learn more. This is a changing disease, and more information is constantly coming. We need to keep up with all of the information that comes out. So, whenever someone has a question, we are able to answer those questions. I’ve had people talk about HIV like it’s really nasty. And I’m able to pull some information out to say, “Wait. Let me educate you about HIV.”
Still waters… I have lost friends, who have said, “Oh, he’s got AIDS.” You know, I mean they just come out and say it. And that does hurt. In moments of reflection you can reflect on the past, and look toward the future. And when you look toward the future, you can see where you have come from and how that has made you a better person. And with the still waters, there is something about the still waters that can calm a person’s mind, their consciousness, and their breathing, and give them time to just really love yourself. That’s what I want for people who are HIV-positive. Just take time to reflect on your life and to love yourself. Don’t beat yourself up, but reflect on where you were yesterday and how that you’re bridging yesterday to today, so that you can get into the future. When you’re doing that, you can realize that you are more than just living this disease or being the disease. But you’re reflecting on the positive and how you want your life to be.