As we mentioned in our last blog post, earlier this year The Graying of AIDS worked closely with New York City-based AIDS research, education, and advocacy organization ACRIA to create an intimate portrait series of older adults – alone and with “partners” – on “Age is Not a Condom,” an NYC HIV/AIDS and aging awareness campaign.
During the month that the “Age is Not a Condom” posters were on display on bus shelters around the city, Katja and Naomi visited many of the bus shelter locations to photograph the posters in place and ask people for their reactions to the campaign. Naomi also checked in with the brave older adults who volunteered to be photographed for the campaign to hear some of their thoughts in the wake of that experience, and after seeing their final posters in place (either in person, or through Katja’s photographs).
Nico, age 40, was visiting from Stuttgart, Germany, when he saw the bus shelter poster of Jim and Tommy on 8th Avenue between 23rd and 24th Streets: “I’ve never seen that. I like it because it’s featuring older people. Usually they take the young boys, models – but I like this. I think the message is for everyone.”
Looking at Jim’s solo poster on display at the bus stop on Broadway between 171st and 172nd in Washington Heights, Manhattan, James, age 51, told Naomi:
“It’s a very arresting image – it’s very provocative. He’s really looking right at you. HIV is a topic that people easily tune out – people want to tune it out – so you want an image that kinda draws you in, makes that emotional connection. He has that kinda half smile, and it’s like, ‘Oh! Why is he smiling…?’ I like that it’s both sex positive and age positive – I don’t think that there are enough visible images of “not young” people in the media. I don’t mean, like, over 50 – I mean, like, over 40.”
One weekend, Naomi stopped by Kamalinii’s solo poster on Ralph Avenue between Fulton and Herkimer Streets in Brooklyn and found three neon-orange vested MTA employees in their 30’s or 40’s talking with a gentleman with a clipboard who appeared to be in his late 50’s, possibly their supervisor. When she asked them for their feedback, an amazing conversation began.
Naomi: What do you think of when you look at the poster?
Maria, the only woman in the group, age 36: “I look at it and I think about my mom having sex.” (Co-workers burst out in laughter, shake their heads, mutter things like, “I can’t go there!” and “I don’t want to think about that!”)
Maria: “I WISH my mom would still have a love life, but after her and her husband broke up – “ (Older co-worker blurts out “Maybe you should introduce her to me!,” other male co-workers laugh.)
Maria: “Why you laughin’…? Yeah, after her and her husband – my father – broke up… nothing. When he came back to her 11 years later, he had AIDS. And they never went there again, but she took care of him ‘til the day he died, because that’s the way she felt about him. He died in her bed.”
Older co-worker: “Wow. That’s beautiful, that she did that for him. That’s a beautiful story.”
Maria: “I saw another (poster from the series) on the 46 line, of an African-American couple facing each other real close, and they looked so in love. I think it’s nice. I kept staring at it, kept looking at it. I like that. I really do.”
The posters featuring Kamalinii and Sergio appeared around the city with text in both Spanish and English. Katja photographed the one below in Jackson Heights, Queens, but other versions were up in Harlem and the Bronx.
In Harlem, Naomi met almost-89-year-old Ramon, who has been married to his wife for 67 years, but she has been sick for a long time, and he IS “still a man,” so when he goes out in the world, he still looks. When asked for his thoughts on this poster and the launch of a city-wide HIV/AIDS bus shelter campaign for and about older adults, he said he thought it was great, and necessary: while he doesn’t do drugs, he used to drink a fair amount until he stopped. He thinks most other men do drink or do drugs, and even though they might know “what to do,” as soon as they’re under the influence, they forget about it. He stressed: “Women are like cake. Men… need to know how to eat.”
The photograph below on the left is of the poster featuring Ty and David (who are actually exes) in place on Malcolm X Avenue between 125th and 126th in Harlem. We wrote each of our participants once their posters went up so that they could go see them out in the world for themselves.
In a recent phone call, Ty confessed: “I think after a week I have adjusted to it. When I first got the email, we were around the corner, so I went over there and saw it and thought, ‘OH MY GOD! I can see myself from a block away!’ The next day this woman approached me on the bus and said, ‘I saw your poster last night,” and I thought, ‘Already?!?’ (Another neighbor) said that it was good that someone was bringing this conversation to the community. All sorts of people have seen it, and I’ve heard all kinds of reactions. At the end of the day, what are you gonna do to try to make this a better place for people? I saw the poster on 126th street at the bus shelter and it’s amazing. I think it’s going to be very effective.”
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the 2014 “Age is Not a Condom” campaign, too! Please reach out to us on Facebook or Twitter, or send us an email at email@example.com and let us know what you think, and what else you would like to see in the future.