Thursday, September 27, 2012

New HIV Statistics on National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day


New HIV Statistics on National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NGMHAAD)

September 27th is National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NGMHAAD)


Founded in 2008 by the National Association of People With AIDS (NAPWA), the National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is a reminder of those we've lost to the pandemic, and also that, despite all the recent progress, we have a long way to go until there's a cure, a vaccine, until we eradicate AIDS and we can truly talk about an AIDS free generation. 

This year's NGMHAAD, September 27th, also brings into focus the alarming numbers of HIV infections among MSMs, in particular young African American MSMs. And the numbers, results of most recent research studies, tell their story.

For example, at the national level, 2009 studies show that:

14 percent of the US population represents African Americans

37 percent of new HIV infections represent African American MSMs, among all MSMs (men who have sex with men)

44 percent of new HIV infections occur among African Americans

48 percent of new HIV infections were found in young African American MSMs, ages 13 to 29, between 2006 and 2009

73 percent of new HIV infections among African American men are African American MSMs


In Florida, a 2010 study shows that:

20 percent of young African American MSMs ages 13 to 24 also have sex with women

28 percent of MSM living with HIV/AIDS are between 13 to 29 years old

MSMs count for more than 50 percent of the newly diagnosed individuals. Recent studies also reported an increase in the number of syphilis and other STDs among MSMs. Syphilis and other STDs can increase the risk of getting infected with HIV.

Why these numbers in this day and age?

Factors include homophobia, poverty, racism or lack of access to healthcare. Community workers explain that African Americans are not always the most progressive when it comes to social issues. As a result, they may find it difficult to talk about sex, HIV, drugs, MSMs or other at-risk groups. As a result, individuals part of at-risk groups, like MSMs avoid getting tested for HIV or, when they, do, it’s late in the game.

Why should we care?

Because some of those directly affected by HIV/AIDS may be our friends, sons, siblings… people we usually care about.

What can we do to help?

That’s a subject for another post. Meanwhile, let’s get involved in fighting AIDS stigma, let’s judge less and listen more, encourage people to get tested, question and find the answers about HIV/AIDS. In the process, we may begin to better understand the complex subject of AIDS and try to make a difference for the better.



Thanks for stopping by.

Alina Oswald
Author of Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography of AIDS

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

An Artistic Conversation about the Environment at the New Kurt Weston Color Photography Show hosted by ENC

An Artistic Conversation about the Environment with Award Winning, Legally Blind Photographer Kurt Weston at the a New Color Photography Show hosted by Environmental Nature Center (ENC)

Ah, the power of visual language! Artistic visual language I should say. If we look closely, we can learn a lot. For example, those who want to learn more about the environment and our relationship with the environment can do so by spending an afternoon with award winning, legally blind visual artist Kurt Weston and have a conversation about using visual arts to reconnect with and rediscover the beauty of Mother Nature.

Flyer for ENC exhibit of color photography by Kurt Weston
Detail information about Kurt Weston ENC color photography show. Image courtesy Kurt Weston
Kurt Weston is a mentor, an inspiration and the subject of a biography called Journeys Through Darkness. Between September 29th and October 20th, those who have fallen in love with Weston's black-and-white artwork will have the chance to fall in love yet again... this time with his rich and vibrant color artwork.

Those who want to meet the artist in person and an afternoon with him can do so by joining Kurt Weston at the Environmental Nature Center on Saturday, September 29th, 2 PM for the opening of his new art show. The art exhibit hosted by ENC will be open to the public September 22nd to October 20th.
Flyer for Art Exhibition with photography of Kurt Weston at Environmental Nature Center
Detail information about Kurt Weston ENC color photography show. Image courtesy Kurt Weston

For more information about the show, please check out the above images or check out the Environmental Nature Center website.

Thanks for stopping by and see you at the ENC show!

Alina Oswald
Writer/Photographer
Author of Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography 




Monday, September 10, 2012

Fashion Week NYC, 2012: Interview with a Male Model

FASHION WEEK NYC, 2012: September 5-13, 2012
And Model Interview

Fashion Week NYC is in the city again, September 5th through 13th. I've photograph a few fashion mini events. My favorite is male fashion. In an industry where women (seem to) reign, I find male fashion much more interesting.

Without saying more, although I'd love to, I'd like to share a few of my male fashion photography images to celebrate Fashion Week New York City, 2012:

Five copies of same male model siting on a chair, facing the camera, wearing different color jeans (from left to right: black, red, purple, green, blue) and white tanktop.
Five (not Fifty) Shades of Jeans: Bauhaus Photography Rendering by Alina Oswald.
And a short interview with my model:

You are a part-time model. When did you first think of going into modeling or fashion industry? And why didn’t you start modeling sooner?  
Actually…I have been casually modeling and closely following fashion since I was a teenager. I enjoy being in front of the camera…its fun!!   I am an avid people-watcher. Fashion and the image we all portray through the way we “put ourselves together” each and every day are both a fascination and passion for me. I enjoy putting myself together every day…then watching the way others interact and react to me.  Fashion is an opportunity for self -expression every single day.  I never get enough of watching people and studying the way they have creatively modeled their image.  It’s fascinating!!

When was your first modeling experience and how did you feel about it?   
My first experience was as a teenager, doing shows. Modeling…like any other craft…is learned. The more you do…the more you learn, improve and become more comfortable with.
male model sitting on outside steps, looking into the camera while wearing sunglasses, black jeans and leather jacket.
Man in Black: Male B&W Fashion Photography. Photo by Alina Oswald.
What attracts you to this kind of work?
I am a complete exhibitionist!!  I enjoy creating an image every day through the clothes I wear then going about my day and watching how people around me react.  Fashion is an art that we can all enjoy every single day.   It’s all about the reaction for me.   Love it or hate it… it’s not really good unless there is a reaction.   Reaction equals opinion.   Opinion equals insight into the person.  I am infinitely fascinated by people, their creativity and what makes them ‘tick’. 

You’ve been featured in publications, books and art shows. What’s next?
I am always interested in doing more modeling with different artists in a variety of different fields. 

What’s your opinion on modeling and age?
People come in all different ages, types and sizes. So should models.  Modeling is selling a fantasy.
outside catwalk showing male model in black sunglasses, t-shirt and jeans and leather jacket walking on the street
The Catwalk: Male Model on the Street. Photo by Alina Oswald.

Male model wearing black sunglasses, jeans and leather jacket (with red highlights) sits at the top of metal stairway.
Sitting on the Edge. Male Fashion Photography by Alina Oswald.
How do you get into the character/role, when modeling?
Modeling a role is nothing more than seeing it through the photographer’s eye.   Acting out the vision another person has for me gives me much more insight into my own creativity because I must draw from this to play the role well.

How do you work with the photographer?
Working with a photographer is about realizing their vision. At the start of any shoot the photographer has a vision of what they want to capture during the session. As a model…it is my role to help capture that vision while a little of my own creativity throughout the process. Hopefully the collaboration of the two will result in something much greater than the sum.

Where do you see your modeling career go from here? 
My hope is that it will only grow. Either modeling or in some other fashion/art related focus. I am an extremely creative person and derived endless pleasure from the opportunity to exercise this creativity.

Male model leaning against a graffiti wall.
Against the Graffiti: Male Fashion Photography by Alina Oswald.

Male model in black leaning by a wall.
Angle. B&W Male Fashion Photography by Alina Oswald.


For a few Black & White fashion photography images, you can check out the work of fashion photographer (turned award-winning fine art photographer) Kurt Weston.

Have a fabulous Fashion Week!
Alina Oswald
Writer/Photographer
Author of Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

September 5th: Remembering Freddie Mercury, Reason to Talk About HIV/AIDS

September 5th: Remembering Freddie Mercury (Happy Birthday Freddie!), Reason to Talk About HIV/AIDS and Journeys Through Darkness


There are not too many days in a year when AIDS takes the front stage. While AIDS has faded away from many people's memories, some of us still remember December 1st, World AIDS Day (first WAD was on December 1st, 1988). Few also remember June 5th, because the epidemic reached American shores on June 5th, 1981. Others keep track of dates--of birth and death--of memorable individuals... like Freddie Mercury, Queen front-man. Freddie Mercury was born today, September 5th, 1946. He died of AIDS-related causes on November 24th, 1991. 

While thinking of Freddie today and listening to his music every single day (it is inspiring and I am a fan), I also remember AIDS each and every day. It is impossible for me not to have HIV/AIDS on my mind each and everyday, because I've been covering the topic for about a decade or so. Today I'd like to invite others to talk about the AIDS pandemic.

Therefore, today the honor to introduce Chip Alfred, A&U: America's AIDS Magazine Editor-At-Large, and Kurt Weston, award-winning, legally blind photographer. A few months ago, Alfred was nice enough to read my book, Journeys Through Darkness and write an inspiring review, which was originally published in Art & Understanding--America's AIDS Magazine. In this post, Alfred shares the long version of his review. Also, Kurt Weston, a visual artist, long-term AIDS survivor, mentor and wonderful friend, and the subject of Journeys, shares a few of his images inspired by the early years of the pandemic.


Hope you enjoy the read and images!
As always, thanks for stopping by,
Alina Oswald
Author of Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography of AIDS



INTO THE LIGHT

Journeys Through Darkness. book cover. Cover photograph by Kurt Weston. Cover design by Alina Oswald
Journeys Through Darkness
Journeys Through Darkness Chronicles the Odyssey of a Visually Impaired Artist and His Quest to Recover the Light

To put it simply, Kurt Weston’s story is a writer’s dream. Having endured more than his share of nightmares, Weston, a long-term AIDS survivor and legally blind photographer, is an inspiration to anyone confronted with seemingly insurmountable obstacles to overcome. In a new biography, Alina Oswald deftly takes the reader along on Weston’s path to healing and self-discovery – occasionally winding up in some dark and desperate places. The author paints a meticulously-defined picture of a man courageously facing his demons head-on, surviving and thriving against all odds. Journeys is a befitting tribute to Weston and a testament to the strength of the human spirit.



Dark Angel. Photo copyright by Kurt Weston. All Rights Reserved.
"Dark Angel" Photo by Kurt Weston
The book is illustrated with Weston’s photographs, which sometimes reveal more in one snapshot than any words can describe. The titular cover image, Journey Through Darkness, says it all. As a result of AIDS-related CMV retinitis, the photographer is totally blind in one eye and retains only peripheral vision in the other. Comparing his sight to looking at an impressionist painting, he photographed a series of self-portraits through glass sprayed with a foaming glass cleaner. “I would like to be able to wipe away all that cotton that keeps floating in front of my eyes and get a clear view of what I want to see out in the world,” he says. What Oswald wants us to see in this biography is not Weston’s life story from the beginning. Instead, the book follows his adult life starting with his career in photography through two decades of cheating death to his transformation into an award-winning visual artist. In the late-eighties, he landed a plum gig as a fashion photographer in Chicago, and then began losing friends to a mysterious virus. In 1991, he took his first HIV test and was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS, had only three T cells, and was suffering from PCP - his first of three bouts. He was admitted to the hospital, where the doctor told Kurt’s mother her son might not live to see another day. His mom, who had overcome TB and hepatitis, grasped his hand and said, “You are my son and you’re strong. You got this strength from my genes and you’re not going to die, because you too are a survivor.” Kurt wasn’t so sure she was right, but he proved that doctor wrong – as he did more doctors to come.




"Anger is an Energy" Photo Copyright by Kurt Weston. All Rights Reserved.
"Anger is an Energy" Photo by Kurt Weston
With compassion and a deep level of understanding, Oswald recounts the photographer’s vivid memories of the early days of the “gay cancer”– the fear, the panic, the stigma, and the sadness. Weston, searching for new connections and a sense of purpose, started volunteering with AIDS organizations and founded a support group, Surviving With AIDS Network (SWAN). When activist organizations like ACT UP took to the streets in protest of the government’s inaction, Weston took his camera and created “Anger is an Energy,” a photograph he says helped give him hope and the strength to survive. Oswald writes, “There were times when Kurt’s own AIDS, and later on his vision loss, had threatened to push him further into the labyrinth of confusion, at times almost to a point of no return…His secret for surviving had always been to never allow failures from his past to govern his life, to alter his future and keep him from making the best of his situation.” Weston became a fierce advocate for his own wellbeing – sometimes resorting to begging medical practitioners for what he wanted. He educated himself on every medication, experimental treatment, alternative therapy and nutrition plan out there. With a support system of AIDS survivors, he became a warrior against the virus and its effects, acknowledging the key role spirituality can play in the healing process. “Weston became very conscious of the multi-dimensional reality - from physical to metaphysical - surrounding him,” Oswald explains. He believed he could do more than just live. He could live a full, productive and meaningful life. “Every time you go back down to just surviving, you can’t really move forward because you only focus on getting to the next day,” Weston shares with the author. “It’s not good for anybody to remain static.”


"Arrival of the Angel" Photo Copyright by Kurt Weston. All Rights Reserved.
"Arrival of the Angel" Photo Copyright by Kurt Weston

In the mid-nineties, after losing most of the people close to him, Weston moved to Orange County, California to live with his younger brother. The following year, his physician declared him legally blind. With all he had been through - dealing with PCP, a severe battle with KS, a series of opportunistic infections and sickening side effects from medications - this was still one of the toughest pills to swallow. “I was devastated because I had spent my life working as a photographer and as a visual artist, and now I was no longer capable of doing this, or so I thought,” he recalls. Just as he triumphed over other stumbling blocks, he managed to overcome this too. He turned this new challenge into a newfound passion – expressing his struggles coping with illness through art. He studied Braille, adopted a seeing-eye dog, learned how to live his life and practice his craft with the limited vision he had. Eventually he found satisfaction in helping others, starting a vitamin co-op to provide therapeutic nutrients to people living with HIV, and speaking to groups of young people through programs like Positively Speaking. Also, something wonderful and unexpected happened to Weston. He found the love of his life, Terry Roberts, a fellow AIDS survivor and activist. The two men remain soulmates to this day. According to Oswald, the Huntington Beach couple complement each other perfectly and frequently finish each other’s sentences. Roberts is Weston’s guiding light, while at times Weston is Roberts’ voice - advocating when necessary for his quiet partner’s heath. Last year, expressing his devotion to Roberts, Weston entered and was selected a winner of the “Fight HIV Your Way” contest after submitting a photo of his other half holding a heart-shaped pillow and an essay that ended with, “He will forever hold my heart.”


Kurt Weston: Self-Portrait. Copyright by Kurt Weston. All Rights Reserved.
Kurt Weston: A Self-Portrait.
Weston is the heart and soul of this book, but Oswald describes it as “A Biography of AIDS,” documenting in explicit detail what it’s like living with AIDS and fighting it day to day. Flipping the last page of the book is like completing a graduate course in HIV/AIDS or perusing a copy of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About AIDS but Didn’t Realize You Were Supposed to Ask. A must-read for anyone affected by HIV, Journeys is bound to move you – either to the edge of your seat, waiting for the next shoe to drop; or to your feet, rooting for its hero every step of the way. This story of a man who never gives up is hopeful, uplifting and empowering.   

Journeys Through Darkness is available for purchase at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.

For more information about Alina Oswald, visit alinaoswald.blogspot.com

Visit kurtweston.com to see Kurt Weston’s body of work.