the AIDS activist project
A fine-art, coffee-table book of selected portraits from the AIDS activist project, created between 1989 and 1998.
the AIDS activist project: A new book of portraits of AIDS activists from around the globe.
Introducing the first coffee table-style art book to depict global members of the AIDS activist organization ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power. Twenty-five years in the making, this labor of love was started in 1989 by Bill Bytsura, a New York City-based photographer and member of ACT UP/New York. This project was born of grief and anger.
In 1989, Bill Bytsura lost his partner Randy Northup to AIDS. It was a time when there were few medications available and no promising treatments on the horizon. Panic and prejudice towards people with AIDS — and gay people in particular — was at a fevered height and there was no legal protection when people were evicted from their homes or their jobs because of AIDS phobia. It was a frightening time.
After Randy’s death, a friend suggested that Bill attend meetings of the new activist group ACT UP, for support and an outlet for his feelings. While the first meeting was loud, passionate and intimidating, Bytsura eventually found a new family among these people. Being a photographer, he joined the ACT UP Media Committee.
While Bytsura documented the many theatrical and angry street demonstrations created by ACT UP, he also felt the world needed to see the private, more contemplative, sides of his brave comrades. Then, perhaps they would not be demonized and their important work ignored.
One day, while sitting through another highly emotional meeting, Bytsura had an idea: He would create a series of portraits of activists — not in the streets, where they were protesting in anger, but in more intimate settings where their humanity shone through. the AIDS activist project was born.
The project began with sessions in Bytsura’s East Village photo studio. It grew quickly, sending the photographer to cities around America where other ACT UP chapters thrived. Eventually, Bill went abroad, intent on capturing the full diversity of the movement by photographing ACT UP members in other countries. The cities and countries included: New York City, Atlanta, St. Louis, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, San Juan, Amsterdam, Berlin and Paris.
Bytsura’s portraits of AIDS activists have been exhibited in New York City and were included in the 1992 exhibition “Don’t Leave Me This Way: Art in the Age of AIDS” at the National Gallery of Australia. In March of 2012, New York magazine showcased Bytsura’s activist portraits in an article on the early days of the epidemic, titled “Pictures From a Battlefield.”
Risks and challenges
Bytsura has convened a formidable team of artists, activists and educators to make the AIDS Activist Project book a reality. They are:
Scott Williams - Layout and Design
Les Williams/Embassy Graphics - Prepress
Jim Magargee - Master Printer, MVLabs
Jay Blotcher and Alan Klein - Public Impact Media Consultants
Marvin Taylor, Director, The Fales Library, New York University
The success of this project – a living memorial to ACT UP comrades – depends on you. Please support this Kickstarter campaign. Bytsura has lined up a series of unique incentives to thank donors to the project.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)