BOOKS: THE HIV PROJECT
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.