Thursday, December 29, 2011

Warrior Within: An Interview with Award-Winning Photographer and AIDS Warrior Kurt Weston (originally published in Art & Understanding Magazine)

Warrior Within: An Interview with Award-Winning Photographer Kurt Weston originally published in A&U Magazine 
To learn more about Kurt Weston and his work as an artist and AIDS warrior, please check out Journeys Through Darkness, A Biography of AIDS

"Warrior Within" article was originally published in A&U's November 2005 issue. It received a few nice comments from readers (thank you!), allowed me to get to get to know better award-winning photographer Kurt Weston and, ultimately, led to my friendship with Weston and to writing a book on his life and art, Journeys Through Darkness

I'd like to share with you "Warrior Within," which was possible because of my discovery and fascination with Weston's intriguing, inspiring and breathtaking photography. 

Hope you enjoy the read. As always, thanks for stopping by,
Alina Oswald

"Warrior Within" by Alina Oswald, originally published in A&U - America's AIDS Magazine
Journeys Through Darkness
Photographer Kurt Weston works through AIDS-related visual loss to capture a portrait of the pandemic.

Photographer Kurt Weston sees his AIDS as a battle.  And he needs to be a warrior willing to fight the virus that is destroying him.   
“I never really wanted to just give up, even when I had the KS lesions.  I think part of it was the fear of dying, but I didn’t just wait for it to happen,” he says, explaining his source of positive attitude during the course of our phone interview. 

Diagnosed with AIDS in 1991, the award-winning visual artist considers protease inhibitors a miracle that literary saved his life.  But, as he was restoring his health, he was also becoming legally blind, diagnosed with CMV retinitis in 1994.

“I was devastated because here I had spent my life working as a photographer and as a visual artist and I was no longer capable of doing this… or so I thought, because I couldn’t see anything in focus.  I don’t see anybody’s face,” he says.  “I see… like, if you look at the palm of your hand.  That’s what I see of a person’s face.  So, I didn’t think I could ever photograph again.”

Fortunately, it turned out he could.  And his first challenge was finishing the 1999 calendar for the Asian/Pacific Crossroads. 

Many challenges later, after attending low vision technology studies at the California Braille Institute and experimenting with his new special equipment, Weston realized that he could, indeed, photograph.  With the help of organizations like the Foundation for Junior Blinds (now known as Junior Blind of America) and California Department of Rehabilitation, he purchased the special equipment—handheld telescope, special magnification glasses, and magnification and reading software programs like Zoomtext—necessary for him to continue his work.     

“It was scary.  A lot of times, I would take a leap of faith and do a lot of experimentation,” he recalls this learning process.

Kurt Weston is a firm believer that a person can work through a situation, no matter how extremely challenging and helpless it may seem, and use the experience to help others who find themselves in similar circumstances.  This philosophy has helped him work off the dilemmas in his own life while giving his life a deeper sense of meaning. 

His early work in the AIDS community includes the founding of SWAN (Surviving With AIDS Network) a grass-root type of organization for people living with HIV/AIDS, as well as founding the Orange County Therapeutic Nutrients Program, which assists people living with HIV/AIDS.

One of the many ways Weston helps others today is through VSA arts (the Very Special Arts), an international organization committed to promote disabled artists.  In June 2005, as a member of a VSA’s Board of Directors, he went to D.C. with a VSA contingent to advocate for the continuation of funding because “this rigid administration and our wonderful President were trying to take all the money away from arts and education.”  He finds this absolutely appalling because these funds are vital for the careers of many potentially good artists. 

From his perspective, Weston considers art a vehicle through which we can experience the nature of humanity.  In today’s society consumed by superficial realities, his art goes beyond the body and into a metaphysical dimension, connecting with the viewer on a more profound, spiritual level.