German photographer and visual artist Dirk H. Wilms has been taking self-portraits since he learned he was HIV-positive 14 years ago. He was used to lazy days photographing nature and the beaches of the North Sea (“It was a perfect life, it was my perfect life, and it should never end,” he recalls thinking), but his diagnosis changed that. He says he lost many friends who were afraid of the virus, his work assignments dried up, and for the next four years he stayed home, hidden from a stigmatizing world.
Then, he says, “I decided to start documenting my life, my fears, and my physical decline as an art form in itself. Photography helps me to make my fears, my depressions and my nightmares visible to those who care to see. So I began shooting myself.”
Because the first traces left by this virus were seen in his face, Wilms first covered it (and often still does).
But he says today, “when I take my images I forget the time of day and all of my problems. It is as if I’m in another dimension, as if I’m back by the sea, running barefoot through the sand and catching moods with my camera. The difference is that I do not photograph beach scenes but my body, as it is today.”