As someone living with HIV, I’m always drawn to personal stories from people I can relate to, but those stories are very hard to find in mainstream HIV media. I’m not interested in reading stories that have more to do with fundraising efforts or advertisements. I love real life stories from the person who has experienced it. So I spend a lot of time reading personal blogs, watching YouTube or speaking to people I meet on the street.
As a photographer I’m always drawn to and interested in photographing images that tell or help to tell a story, but again, it must be a story about real life and real life situations. Sure event, wedding, and red carpet photography can be fun and the pay is nice, but that isn’t the kind of imagery that moves me.
Recently I was asked by Positively Aware magazine if I would accept an assignment to photograph a cover for their magazine. This was one of my unspoken goals for 2015 and now here it was presenting itself to me through a writer by the name of Olivia Ford. Last year Ms. Ford wrote an article for POZ magazine about someone I met and happened to photograph at Netroots Nation, Ashton P. Woods. She was asking to use a couple of my images to go with the article. This later led to the email and phone call from creative director Rick Guasco magazine which sealed the deal.
My good friend Todd drove me down to San Diego for the photoshoot at Christie’s Place. I knew the story was about women and HIV and through friends I knew Christie’s Place does some amazing things for women and their families living with HIV, but what I didn’t’ know was how completely blown away, powerfully encouraged, incredibly inspired and empowered I’d be by Christie’s Place and how very rewarding the entire experience would prove to be.
You can go to any website and read what they do for folks living with HIV as well as those individuals battling homelessness, but to actually see it in action is something else entirely. Furthermore, having the opportunity to hear, unscripted or coached, personal stories from members who access service through such an agency and others who are now employed by the agency is truly a testament to how good a place truly is.
I was so blown away by the service of Christie’s Place that I decided to dedicate my 9th anniversary outreach to them by asking my friends and supporters to help me provide much needed hygiene items for them to give to their members.
In true helping style my friends and loyal supporters donated all kinds of hygiene items as well as a few dolls, a gently used Canon T series camera, personal care items and even a cash donation to help them with their amazing work.
My friends Todd, Andy and I decided to make a weekend of it and drove down to San Diego to deliver the items. Once again it was so cool to have the opportunity to see the staff and women of Christie’s Place, but this time deliver items to assist them with their work.
Christie’s Place was a blessing in disguise, because I thought it would be a simple photo gig, but instead it was both inspiring and uplifting. I walked away knowing that there is such a place that puts compassion and dignity ahead of money. A place where folks living with HIV receive services that actually help them rebuild or move forward in their life. Services where humanity is more important than money of numbers. Service that is filled with dignity and respect for women living with HIV. A place that encourages women to be beautiful, strong, independent and to live healthy lives which fosters complete wellness for mind, body and soul.
As someone living with HIV, I know that agencies far too often forget that living with HIV is far more than going to the doctor and taking HIV medications. There seems to be this loss of human kindness and compassion, but Christie’s Place reminded me that folks living with HIV not only deserve quality HIV care and services, but are worthy of it and that such services can be delivered daily, but it requires a staff that puts people first.
To the staff of Christie’s Place, thank you very much for the amazingly human and compassionate work you do so well for women and families with HIV. To the women I had the opportunity to photograph and share space with I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to all of you. Each of you is beautiful, strong and courageous. You should be very proud of what you have accomplished and who you are. Your stories are encouraging, your spirits are amazing. Please keep holding your heads high, living your dreams and your truth. You are what’s good in this world.