The idea for A Day with HIV came to Rick Guasco over one weekend in 2010. “I thought there should be a campaign that reminded people that HIV/AIDS is still a serious health issue for everyone — regardless of your HIV status — and that we need to overcome the fear, ignorance and stigma associated with it. That’s a message for everyone, so, this campaign should be for everyone. And it should be visual. Suddenly, A Day in the Life of America to mind.”
A Day in the Life of America was a photojournalism project in the 1980s; about 200 photographers were assigned to capture 24 hours in the lives of people throughout the U.S. “What better way to make an anti-stigma campaign than to make it about everyone?” thought Guasco. He thought the idea of having photos that are taken all on the same day gives it a little excitement while capturing personal moments in people’s lives. That’s why a key part of A Day with HIV is that people include a caption that details what time and where they took their photo — and what inspired them to take that picture. “In fact, a tag line I’ve used for A Day with HIV is, ‘Everyday moments in extraordinary lives.’”
Guasco is creative director of Positively Aware, an HIV treatment magazine that produces the annual campaign. Around 300 photos are submitted every year from about a dozen countries around the world, Guasco says. Many pictures are from Canada and England as well as Australia, Brazil, India, Malaysia, the Netherlands and South Africa.
Every year, Guasco is “amazed and touched by the different people from different places and walks of life who have one thing in common and have decided to share their personal stories. And the one thing they have in common isn’t necessarily that they have HIV, it’s that they are affected by HIV. HIV knows no boundaries. A Day with HIV is about breaking down the boundary between ‘us’ and ‘them.’”
One participant that sticks out is “a young woman from New York who first submitted her photo in 2011; it’s a selfie taken on an elevated train platform but only the top part of her face is visible, barely enough that you might recognize her. She’s sent in a photo nearly every year since then, and each picture reveals more of her — the rest of her face, her smile. In her 2014 photo, she’s standing on a train platform near Yankee Stadium, giving this ‘look at me!’ pose. It blows me away to see her journey of self-acceptance and happiness unfold in those pictures.”
Guasco reflects on the enduring stigma of HIV and the meaning of A Day with HIV, “Ignorance, fear and stigma are the one constant about HIV. HIV is no longer a death sentence; we have medications we didn’t have even ten years ago that essentially make HIV a manageable condition” And yet, almost as many people today wrongly believe that you can get HIV from sharing a drinking glass from someone HIV-positive as did back in 1987. “You can begin to address fear and ignorance through education and information. But the way to deal with stigma is to make people realize they have more in common with the people they fear than they thought. You’re less likely to fear people who seem more like you.” Guasco says.
A few stories that stick out to Gusaco are below.
Above: Australian Olympic gymnast Ji Wallace, had only recently come out as HIV-positive at the time, when he first took part in A Day with HIV. It was one of the ways he was making a statement to the world. There are several people who take part every year; looking at their photos over the years, you can see their journey progress. Another powerful statement came from a young gay man who had his picture taken as he was getting his HIV test. It was such a compelling image that we chose it for one of the covers of Positively Aware, the HIV treatment magazine I work for.
An older gentleman who has been HIV-positive for over 32 made the point that he’s still physically active by having his picture taken as he was skydiving. That also made the cover of the magazine.
A young college student took a picture of himself walking across the campus of TCU, his caption merely stated that he had took this picture in support of his best friend had disclosed the day before that he was HIV-positive.
Last year a children’s HIV organization in South Africa submitted a video of a group of their kids holding hands in a circle singing their “Adherence Chant,” the song they sing every day as they take their HIV medication. None of the kids’ faces are visible, but the sight of them, and hearing them sing, is so powerful. "On Monday Tuesday Wednesday too, I take my medicine when it's due. Thursday Friday come along, I take my medicine to make me strong. On Saturday, Sunday it's fun to play, I take my medicine every day."
A Day with HIV portrays a single 24-hour period in the lives of people affected by HIV — that’s everyone. On Friday, September 22, use your smartphone or digital camera to capture a moment of your day. Post the picture on your social media with the hashtag #adaywithhiv along with a caption detailing the time and location of your photo — and what inspired you to take it. You can also go to adaywiththiv.com to upload your photo and caption, and it will become part of our online gallery. Selected gallery photos will appear in the next issue of Positively Aware, the HIV treatment magazine. Four high-res images will be chosen for different versions of the cover. Remember, photos must be taken tomorrow Friday, September 22.