Challenging Stereotypes, One Bus Shelter at a Time (Part 1)

Our Ground-breaking Portrait Series for NYC’s “Age is Not a Condom” Campaign

Two of the eight poster designs that were featured on 30 plus bus shelter locations around New York.

Two of the eight poster designs that were featured on 30 plus bus shelter locations around New York.

Here at The Graying of AIDS we think it’s a problem that we rarely see older adult intimacy in our media – it suggests that older adults aren’t sexual, or that their bodies should be hidden; on the rare occasion that we DO see older bodies in a sexual context, the images are often disrespectful or comical.  We have long wanted to counteract this ageism by creating beautiful images that celebrate the intimacy that older adults enjoy in their relationships, encouraging our older neighbors to take good care of both their bodies and their partners in the process. Earlier this year we had the opportunity to do just that.

Working in collaboration with ACRIA (and funded by New York City’s Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene), we created a portrait series for ACRIA’s “Age is Not a Condom” HIV/AIDS testing and prevention campaign. After months of community outreach and casting, we were honored to work with a wonderful group of older volunteers to create a series of portraits of individuals and “couples” depicted in beautiful, unapologetically intimate and sensual bedroom scenes. The images that resulted were exhibited larger-than-life on bus shelters all around New York City throughout the month of May, Older Americans Month.

2014 Age Is Not  A Condom campaign

ROBERT, CROWN HEIGHTS, BROOKLYN. Bernice – seated at right, and “two weeks shy of 61” – thought the poster was a good thing: “Disease does not have an age. You can have sex at 85… You have to protect yourself at any age. Your health is important, whether it’s smoking or, what are they called, STDs? You have to be aware.”

Truly a Community Effort!

From our fabulous “models” to the talented volunteer MAC make-up artists who worked with them and the wonderful friend who generously allowed us to use her loft space, this was a powerful example of people coming together around an issue they care about and a campaign they believe in, and we thought it was high time we shared some of these images – and our tremendous gratitude – with all of you.

First and foremost, we want to thank the extraordinary men and women who volunteered to be photographed for the portrait series. We are aware that there are other opportunities out there to participate in photoshoots that pay handsomely, but this was not that kind of opportunity. Instead, our participants stepped up for a variety of personal reasons: in most cases, their lives have been touched by HIV/AIDS in some way, and their participation was a way of honoring, remembering, and celebrating those personal connections and memories.

Dozens of people responded to our call for participants, and we would have been lucky to work with any and all of them, but our desire to work as much as possible with “couples” (who might not actually be couples but were people who knew each other well enough to be comfortable cuddling in bed for the camera) meant that we had to narrow the list of participants significantly.

In the end, we had the tremendous pleasure of working with Anna, Paul, Ty, David, Kamalinii, Sergio, Ricky, Louie, Jim, Tommy, and Robert. Thank you all so much for trusting us in this process, and for caring enough about older adults and HIV/AIDS to make yourselves so vulnerable. You are all brave and beautiful, and we loved working with you!

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.”

Nico, age 40, from Stuttgart, Germany, reacted to the bus shelter poster of Jim and Tommy in Chelsea: “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.”

Thank you, too, to the incredible folks from MAC Cosmetics who volunteered their time and expertise to help our participants feel fabulous and taken care of. As Ricky said when asked about his experience participating in the campaign: “The make-up, and you, and the food – you guys really made me feel good. It was a great experience. I wish I had that every morning!” So, to Jodi, Mark, Yassira, Alonso, and Josh: many thanks for sharing your talents and your time, and hats off to MAC Cosmetics for its ongoing commitment to supporting AIDS-related causes.

We also want to honor the many people who made this campaign possible who were perhaps less obviously critical to the success of this campaign: to Krisanne and the good people at the Bushwick loft for sharing their beautiful space with us for our three photo shoots; to the many individuals and organizations who helped us get the word out about our search for participants by posting flyers, sharing our casting call on social media, and reaching out to individuals who might be interested (with a special thank you to Senior Planet, who inspired a rush of inquiries from their readers).

And finally, to all the wonderful people who were interested in participating that we, sadly, did not get a chance to work with: thank you so much for your interest and passion about this issue, and for your willingness to brave the camera alone for a cause you believe in. You are TRULY wonderful! It would have been great to meet and work with all of you…But who knows what the future holds?  Here’s hoping we have a chance to create many more campaigns like this in the future, and are able to continue celebrating sexual health and intimacy at every age.

Don’t forget, folks: #ageisnotacondom!

[See also:  Challenging Stereotypes, One Bus Shelter at a Time (Part 2): More man/woman on the street reactions to this ground-breaking campaign!]