This book is about fifteen people with AIDS whose words and images record what is happening to their bodies and spirits as they confront the reality and contemplate the mystery of certain death. Nicholas and Bebe Nixon set out to describe honestly and compassionately what it is to have AIDS; what it does to families and friends; why it is the most devastating social and medical issue of our time.

The photographs are characteristic of Nixon’s "serial portraits"--stark and formal close-ups or shallow-focused medium shots of immobile subjects taken at intervals of weeks and months with an 8 x 10 view camera. They are accompanied by comments culled from subjects’ conversations and letters by Bebe Nixon, a science journalist.


Nicholas and Bebe Nixon began the PEOPLE WITH AIDS project in 1986; in 1988, a selection of the serial portraits was displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It was one of the first and most controversial mainstream art exhibits on AIDS, becoming a kind of standard by which to measure dehumanizing, degrading representations of the disease. Although critics had some difficulty in expressing their unease about the images at the time, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) had no such ambivalence, staging a protest and distributing a manifesto that demanded more diverse and more positive representations and that repudiated the identification of AIDS with death.

Once decried as another victimization of the person with AIDS, Nixon’s photographs are now being reconsidered as historically important and aesthetically significant, as highly exceptional counterpoints to the by now entrenched iconography of the healthy and beautiful person with HIV/AIDS. ACT UP’s call for "NO MORE PICTURES WITHOUT CONTEXT" at the original, partial exhibition is relevant when encountering all of the pictures in the published edition, which do include minorities and women with their families, friends and lovers and does combine their images with their words--stories of their lives, reflections on their deaths, reasons for their becoming part of this particular record of the epidemic.


The book includes photographs of fifteen subjects, with a foreword by Bebe Nixon.


David R. Godine

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