Art Annotations


Solomon, Rosalind
Portraits in the Time of AIDS


On-Line Art
MediumArt
Art FormPhotography
KeywordsAIDS, Body Self-Image, Family Relationships, Human Worth, Individuality, Infectious Disease, Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Issues, Suffering, Survival
SummaryThis collection of twenty-seven images was culled from an exhibition featuring seventy-five individuals with AIDS photographed over a ten-month period in the late 1980s. Solomon’s project recalls the work of photographers such as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans who chronicled the devastation of rural America during the Great Depression. However, Solomon eschews the spontaneity of documentary photography for the formality of portraiture so that the figure itself is always at the center of the picture plane. Ranging in format from single full-figures to group images, from dramatic close-up facial shots to nearly abstract still-lifes, these images capture the humanity of the diverse persons affected by AIDS.
Commentary

Solomon states the goal of this project as follows: "to reveal a special character, a relationship, an environment, aspects of the human struggle to survive." At a time when the view of AIDS was monolithic (that of a solitary white male wasting away in a clinical setting), Solomon attempted to depict the individuality as well as the normalcy, the suffering as well as the strength of people living with rather than dying from AIDS.

Her technique to communicate both the integrity and veracity of her sitters was to invite them to choose the setting and to place themselves within it. The result is a variety of dramatic portraits whose subjects gaze sometimes defiantly, sometimes poignantly, but always directly at the viewer. This directness not only challenges our stereotypical representations of "AIDS victims" and "members of risk groups" but also reveals our shameful tendency to talk about, rather than to, persons who are ill or dying.

Solomon has come under criticism for exploiting people with AIDS and merely continuing the solipsism that art photography encourages--namely, that these photographs foreground the sensibility of the artist rather than the reality of her subjects’ lives. Nevertheless, Solomon makes a genuine effort to collapse the boundaries between subject and object, innocent and guilty, healthy and sick, them and us.

Alternate SourceGrey Art Gallery & Studio Center, New York Univ., New York (1988)
Miscellaneous16 pp. text, includes preface and introduction by Thomas W. Sokolowski and statement by the artist; 27 black and white plates.
Annotated by Jones, Therese
Date of Entry 07/03/98