BOOKS: THE HIV PROJECT

DNA Magazine - - CONTENT #227 - Pho­tog­ra­phy by Roy Wilkins, In­ter­views by Phillip Shipton

THE HIV BOOK PROJECT comes as we cel­e­brate the 30th an­niver­sary of World AIDS Day on De­cem­ber 1.

The book is a com­pelling Aus­tralian so­cial his­tory and a vi­brant artis­tic re­sponse to the changes that have oc­curred to peo­ple liv­ing with HIV over the past 35 years.

It chrono­log­i­cally doc­u­ments the story of HIV treat­ments: from the early years of AIDS-re­lated in­fec­tions and death, then onto ex­per­i­men­tal treat­ments and their side ef­fects, which were of­ten were worse than the dis­ease.

Grad­u­ally hope was rekin­dled as ef­fec­tive treat­ments were de­vel­oped and be­came avail­able, and to­day those liv­ing with HIV have sus­tained un­de­tectable HIV vi­ral loads, which means they can­not trans­mit the virus to oth­ers. This trans­for­ma­tion has brought many HIV-pos­i­tive peo­ple out of their clos­ets and they feel able to talk openly and hon­estly about HIV.

The two cre­ators of this book are both HIV-pos­i­tive and have lived with the virus for more than 30 years.

Roy Wilkins’ vi­brant por­trait pho­tog­ra­phy is su­perbly com­pli­mented by Phil Shipton’s re­flec­tive in­ter­views. The por­traits are also of­ten ex­tremely per­sonal. Each model was asked to nom­i­nate a shoot lo­ca­tion that had mean­ing to them and their HIV.

Twenty in­di­vid­u­als are fea­tured in the book and the pho­to­graphs and in­ter­views cap­ture the heart­break, de­spair and courage of their in­di­vid­ual sto­ries. These re­flec­tions change over time in line with on­go­ing med­i­cal break­throughs but a con­stant re­frain through­out the book is the im­pact of stigma and dis­crim­i­na­tion on each per­son’s life. Many of the in­di­vid­u­als fea­tured are from the fringes of main­stream so­ci­ety but they are also ex­tremely di­verse.

Many gay men are fea­tured but there are also mi­grants, a trans-per­son, an Indige­nous Aus­tralian, a per­son with med­i­cally ac­quired HIV, a refugee, a fa­ther, and also women liv­ing with HIV.

Garry Wother­spoon, who has writ­ten ex­ten­sively on Syd­ney’s gay his­tory, has con­trib­uted a fore­word to the book. He ex­am­ines the New South Wales leg­isla­tive HIV re­sponses from an his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive and pro­vides in­sight­ful com­men­tary on how this im­pacted and af­fected the gay com­mu­nity and other groups and also con­sid­ers what the is­sues are go­ing for­ward.

The book has been very hand­somely pro­duced in hard­cover and comes with a choice of three dif­fer­ent cover de­signs. The ini­tial re­sponse to the book has also been over­whelm­ingly en­thu­si­as­tic.

As man­ager of Syd­ney’s The Book­shop Dar­linghurst, I ad­mit that I was com­pleted sur­prised (but de­lighted) that the book has been sell­ing so well. There is a per­cep­tion that books with HIV/AIDS as a theme don’t sell strongly. Twenty or 30 years ago, this was prob­a­bly a more valid state­ment.

Although there have al­ways been ex­cep­tions (Tim Con­i­grave’s Hold­ing The Man, for ex­am­ple) and pub­lish­ing/book­selling has al­ways been wildly un­pre­dictable. You never re­ally know what is go­ing to cap­ture the pub­lic’s imag­i­na­tion and some­times it comes com­pletely from left field.

So it’s ex­tremely grat­i­fy­ing to see The HIV Book Project at the top of our monthly best­seller list and out­selling other pop­u­lar and well-known ti­tles.

Grad­u­ally hope was rekin­dled… this brought many HIV+ peo­ple out of their clos­ets and they feel able to talk openly and hon­estly.

From the book, sto­ries of Jo­hann, Mark, Rich and Yasser.

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