Thursday, December 2, 2010

My AIDS Journey: The Early Years--Early Eighties

The early eighties, the early AIDS years, aka "dark years,' not many remember those years, especially not today's youth. They cannot, because they were not born at that time. But others remember those years and others more should, but choose not to.

Here's an excerpt from my book, Journeys Through Darkness, a biography that reminds us why it is important not to forget about AIDS by taking us on a journey into the history of AIDS, from the early eighties to present day, through the story of Kurt Weston, an award-winning, fine art photographer.

Hope you enjoy the read. If you want to read the whole story and enjoy some of Weston's images, go to: Journeys Through Darkness.

Alina Oswald

The early eighties were the years of silent sufferings and mysterious deaths. They were the years when a lot of people just… disappeared. One day they were around, the next they were just gone, and nobody knew for sure what had happened to them. It took four years of too many silent deaths and one publicized celebrity death for AIDS to make the headlines in the U.S. It wasn’t until the disease claimed the life of a movie star, Rock Hudson, that the threat of the virus was brought home to many Americans. 
But that doesn’t mean that the first four years of loss and suffering and sickness of unknown people were forgotten. The early eighties have inspired many artists to capture the epidemic in various forms of art, from literature and Broadway shows to film and photography.
Those living in New York City at the time may remember the giant billboard posted in Times Square displaying a picture of Ronald Reagan, his face covered with purple Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions. It was a protest message capturing the Reagan Administration’s response to the AIDS issue.
Kurt Weston lived through the early days of the AIDS epidemic, when people were getting infected and having to deal with the reality that they were sick, victims of the mysterious “gay cancer,” and that there was nothing that they could do to stay alive. He had to watch helplessly how his friends were dying horrible and silent deaths, a lot of times having no idea what exactly was killing them, or how, or why. In only a few years AIDS has claimed the lives of everybody the photographer knew in Chicago. And when it didn’t claim lives, AIDS isolated and stigmatized its victims.
While many of those infected were too weak and sick to leave their beds, others were struggling to maintain some connection to the world outside their homes and their disease. Young men looking three times their age walked the streets, their faces drawn and covered with purple blotches, their emaciated bodies hunched over their canes. They were the messengers of the strange and scary disease, and living proof of its presence in the American society.
But nobody wanted to be around the disease or anybody carrying it. So, many started avoiding using public restrooms or drinking from water fountains, afraid to touch or be around people who could have the disease.