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Faces of AIDS: J. Tomás López Reflects on His Photos that Looked the Pandemic in the Eye

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    By Deserae E. del Campo
    Special to UM News

    Faces of AIDS

    Dennis, 1990-1991, silver gelatin print, by J. Tomás López.

    CORAL GABLES, Fla. (March 2, 2016) — J. Tomás López, professor of photography and director of electronic media in the College of Arts and Sciences, spent four months researching the essential message he wanted to convey in the images he captured for the collaborative photography project Faces of AIDS back in the spring of 1990.

    A full narrative of Lopez’s experience photographing individuals with HIV/AIDS was recently featured in A&U Magazine, a publication containing art, activism, and current events emanating from the AIDS pandemic.

    “My early discussions with this group of 14 PWA’s (people with AIDS) were about my intent, as well as the motivation of those with AIDS for getting involved in the project,” said López. He recalls how the process went on for months, from September to December of 1990.

    “I attended dinners and workshops at the Tampa AIDS Network when none of the other artists were there, and stayed hours talking with PWAs,” he said. “I heard for the first time that AIDS wasn’t just a disease of the body but one that took its real toll in the spirit. Many people that I spoke to referred to the alienating nature of this virus, not just because it is contagious nor because it is thought of as a gay plague but because when a person is perceived as dying others are hesitant to look them in the eye.”

    The final portraits captured by López are haunting; they are close-up, large shots exhibited in 70 mm infrared black and white photographs. “You must look into their eyes, and there is no averting your gaze. They are just like us. They are us,” said López.

    Read the full article about López’s experience and see the images he captured.


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