Photography and HIV/AIDS

Tanya Sheehan (Art History)

HIV/AIDS Photography exhibitWhat is a photograph of HIV/AIDS? This Byrne Seminar explored the relationship between photography and HIV/AIDS. We began by considering how American photographers have constructed the “face of AIDS” since the 1980s. We asked questions: what enables such images to persuade, criticize, celebrate, educate, or produce a particular emotional response? As our conversations unfolded, the students came to a consensus that they wanted to raise awareness on campus about HIV/AIDS, not by disseminating facts but by sharing the questions they had with others.

This project took students out into the Rutgers community—to football games, to residence halls, to student events—where they took photographs to document what they saw. The photographs they produced were on view at Johnson & Johnson from November 22, 2010 though January 13, 2011. The exhibition, “From Ethiopia to New Jersey: Photography and HIV/AIDS” also included photographs by Eric Gottesman and the Ethiopian art collective, Sudden Flowers. Both projects provide alternatives to historic visual representations of HIV/AIDS. With Mr. Gottesman, the students presented their work at a lunchtime gallery talk to a full audience, helping them make connections between the experience of Rutgers students and the experience of Ethiopian youths affected by HIV/AIDS.

Tanya SheehanTanya Sheehan (Ph.D., Brown University) is an assistant professor in the Art History department at Rutgers-New Brunswick, where she teaches courses on art and science, race and representation, and the history of photography. Previously Dr. Sheehan was a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Columbia University and a graduate student at Brown University. She is currently completing a book based on her doctoral dissertation which examines the relationship between studio portrait photography and medical discourse in nineteenth-century Philadelphia.