all content © Albert J. Winn 2013

My Life Until Now

“My Life Until Now” is an autobiographic project begun in 1990 when I received an AIDS diagnosis. At the time, popular images of people with AIDS portrayed the infected as victims with no chance of survival. Historically, this point of view may have been accurate. After all, there were no effective treatments and hundreds of people were dying. Those who were infected and sick with AIDS were often stigmatized and ostracized, so just showing someone living with the illness brought much needed attention to the epidemic. A diagnosis was terrifying. Faced with the urgency of my situation, I determined to show that illness represented only one part of my life. Faced with what was then considered a fatal disease, I began this autobiographic series of photographs and stories chronicling my life as a gay Jewish man living with AIDS. I did not want illness to represent the sum total of my life. At first, the work was to be a record. Something I left behind. The images shown here are portions of that endeavor. Seen within the context of domesticity, the images address personal relationships, religious and cultural identity, family, sexuality and memory.

Gay imagery was often idealized, demonized, even fetishized, but I have never been afraid to open my life for examination so long as the viewer was not to be a pedestrian observer. The observer would be engaged, and so I determined to look back, to confront, to establish a dialogue. The issues were too important. As I have survived, progressing to living with AIDS and being a long term survivor, the challenge now becomes how to add to the work and to make the images relevant and continue telling the story.

The project has again taken on another aspect of urgency. Recently diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer, I am suddenly cast back to the early days of the AIDS crises where a disease threatens to take over my life, even the way I live. It raises the question of what it means to be a long term survivor, because now I have lived long enough to acquire the diseases of old age: an idea completely unimaginable in the early years of the epidemic. Before the new medical regime, it was not uncommon to hear from the infected, myself included, “I just don’t want to die from AIDS.” It was a statement of desperation and a statement of defiance that AIDS wouldn’t kill us, that we would defeat the disease by not letting it get us first. We knew it was hypothetical but now, I am presented with the opportunity for real.

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