(This piece is best read in conjunction with Michael’s earlier entry about the work Andrew Gayed featured him in here.)
Can you talk about the process and camera you used to construct ‘4 Pills Once Daily‘?
Supplementary research was made to have a better understanding of the issue. I had an idea of what the series would look like, so I took some initial photos with a 'stand-in' model to decide various compositional elements. Then I interviewed my model to gage a personal account of his overall struggle with HIV, and the stigma associated with it. The recorded audio from the interview was then edited to create a loop that would be played while exhibiting the piece. As for the photos themselves, I shot the series using an old 120 medium-format film camera. This gives richness to the photos, especially when seeing the highly detailed 42x42 inch digital prints that came from a 6cm film negative."
What was it about HIV-stigma that made you want to explore it, particularly in such a challenging manner?
Well, my bodies of work focus on questioning the hetero-normative adaptation in society and the gender dynamics within that. Now, this leaves me with a lot of wiggle room to explore different realms of sexuality, gender-normatively, religious/institutional repercussions, and the list goes on. One thing I felt very passionately about was stigmatization of HIV. However it wasn't until '4 Pills Once Daily' where I decided on a series that would question many of these issues. I have had a project idea revolving around HIV stigma for over a year now, and sometimes that's what you need to make sure you are ready to handle something so delicate, but in a manner that is accessible and more importantly, memorable.
Everyone has an anus, and yet when you initially discussed photographing a gay man’s HIV-positive butt hole, you faced some opposition. Can you talk about that?
Well, originally I intended to photograph the anus as the central and only 'subject' in the scene. Some criticisms were given about being so blatant; the main critique was that I may be building more walls than bridges, conflicting with creating an open dialogue on the matter. I racked my brain to present the same shot yet more accessible, and that's when I decided to depict the anus shot as an intimate moment with another man in the background. While not detracting from the clear focus of the picture, the anus is then presented for the other man in the scene, we just happen to be on-lookers. While I am aware the audience has the front-row seat of the buttocks, the model isn't simply showing his ass-hole to us, rather presenting himself as a sexual being, or rather a COMFORTABLY sexual being. That is what people find the most threatening when thinking about an HIV positive individual, so that’s why I aimed to find a way to do just that while still opening the doors for dialogue."
There’s a genius to your title ‘4 Pills Once Daily’ which I absolutely love; the title is both dismissive and arduous depending on your perspective. Which one do you think the pictures speak more too?
That's just it; this piece is meant to be interpreted by the masses, not just by a specific gender, orientation, or HIV status. The idea is to open people’s minds and give a different perspective on the issue, bearing in mind the context in which the photos are presented (with the audio interview of my model playing simultaneously). If someone was offended by the series, the question is WHY they felt that way, for being uncomfortable is the only way you can re-examine what you are already comfortable with. I find the photos cater to both perspectives in regards to the title, yes I am exposing the harsh reality of stigma, but the fact that I include the audio interview during the exhibition of the piece is to give another realm of depth and interpretation, helping it be a didactic piece. The information is all there, it's a matter of opening your eyes and letting yourself see more than a medicalized death toll when thinking of HIV."
I find it interesting that in response to your work, the debate that has emerged on your message board is actually around the outright denial or diminishment of the role HIV-stigma has played, and continues to play, in poz gay men’s health and wellness. “There aren't HIV/AIDS memorials all over the world because of stigma, perception, ignorance, hatred, or fear” I thought was a very telling comment about how clueless people are to the issues in play. Did you anticipate that an HIV positive gay man, telling your audience that HIV stigma is a problem, would be so hotly debated by an HIV negative audience?
No, I can't say I am surprised with the reactions. Considering the highly political nature of my photographic body of work as a whole, it creates an easy target of criticism for people who are uncomfortable with different viewpoints. I have unfortunately dealt with hate-mail and various other attempts at silencing my works, but people need to understand that such hatred doesn't offend me as much as you think it does. While it's definitely upsetting that people feel the need to go out of their way to comfort themselves by sending hate mail, the fact of the matter is that I'm proud to have evoked such emotions in a viewer. Being critical is something my work is all about, and having such strong feelings about my work just means I made you at least THINK of the other side of the spectrum, regardless if it made you uncomfortable. My mission statement says 'art is to comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comforted', and I truly abide by this. Sometimes you need to be taken out of your comfort zone to see what else is out there, and for some people that idea is really threatening. Like I said before, being uncomfortable is the only way you can re-examine what you are already comfortable with.
To view the art of Andrew Gayed, visit http://andrewgayed.posterous.com and http://andrewgayed.tumblr.com or look for him on Twitter and Facebook.