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Resilience through a lens

In a nationwide competition, Australians living with HIV were invited to send in photographs that best represented resilience against stigma. Claire Sidlow spoke with the winning contestant about the inspiration behind the shot.

Members of the HIV community and their allies came together in Melbourne in June for the launch of the ENUF images ENUF voices Photographic Exhibition. The event showcased entries of a competition created to offer people living with HIV a visual platform to share their experiences of stigma.

People from around the country were asked to submit photos that, to them, represented what stigma and/or resilience means, accompanied by a short narrative describing their experience of living with HIV. “I believe the creative process is an effective and valuable way to change thinking,” said ENUF campaign coordinator Brenton Geyer. “Those who entered their photos and stories gave others the opportunity to understand how stigma affects all those living with HIV.”

The competition attracted a panel of judges who are strong supporters of the HIV community including Laurina Fleure, Rowena Allen, Professor Sharon Lewin, Dr Alyson Campbell, Christabel Millar and Daniel Burke. Burke is a photographer by trade and fully supports the aim of the ENUF program. “A picture can evoke emotion and this competition gives people the chance to capture their experiences in a way that sometimes can’t be put into just words,” he said.

Lockdown

“Lockdown represents the closing and hardening of myself — not against the world, but for it. My resilience to fight comes from taking stock of what I have, and have always had, without realising it, and protecting it.  We are all in this together and are stronger for this; small parts in an ever strengthening and ever growing chain.” — Jason 

The winning photo — submitted by Jason Clarke — is an evocative image of a lock and chain. Clarke initially chose to remain anonymous in his entry because he has never been publicly open about his positive status before. He’s now taking steps forward to share his journey with others.

Claire Sidlow: What compelled you to enter the competition?

Jason Clarke: I originally heard about the contest through a couple of friends. I have actively kept a photograph diary via Instagram since my HIV diagnosis which has documented how I have felt. Through this process I have found images are better at expressing my story.

CS: Tell us a bit about your HIV journey.

JC: My HIV journey started the first time I moved to Melbourne. I got the news of my diagnosis on the first day on my new job and I then had to sort out the whole process of my diagnosis in a new city. I didn’t know much about HIV before my diagnosis and I only knew a handful of people who were openly HIV-positive. In the past, I hadn’t been the nicest to those who were open with their status. In hindsight, it was due to my own naivety and fear. It took me at least 12 months to really come to terms with my diagnosis and during that time I was not making the best choices in life, including quitting my job and struggling with crystal meth.

CS: Have you experienced stigma due to your HIV diagnosis?

JC: The stigma that I’ve experienced since my diagnosis has happened more often through social media and from my own personal view of HIV. I’ve since realised the impact of an acronym and words, and how HIV influenced my life and the choices I made.

How people react to different illnesses was something I recently experienced when I was diagnosed with cancer. I found it very interesting how my friends, family and general public interacted with both illnesses, and that made me really understand the complexities of stigma — as both cancer and HIV have elements of misunderstanding. This realisation helped me recognise the power of words and how everyone has their own views and biases which can inform stigma.

CS: What inspired you to capture the photo you did?

JC: The inspiration stemmed from my time in a refuge I was staying at over Christmas. It was the first proper roof over my head for quite some time and it was one of four beds offered by the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation. I found it scary and not overly pleasant, but it was a roof over my head.

The photograph of the lock was actually the lock on the outside gate, as the building had a very strong security element with strict curfews. The drops of water on the lock were due to the shitty weather of the day which, while not intentional, was good symbolism for how I felt during my time in the refuge.

CS: What do you plan on doing with your cash prize?

JC: I have purchased a small upright parlour piano. I love music and the piano in particular, and have often utilised the street pianos that used to be around Melbourne when I lived there. I’m truly happy I’ve finally been able to purchase something I’ve always wanted.

CS: What would you say to a person struggling with the stigma of HIV?

JC: The only advice I can think of is try not to let the three-letter acronym dictate how you see yourself and your life. Everyone comes from a different place and whatever stigma that you come across is probably a reflection of their own personal bias — not anything to do with you as a person.

Weapons in combat

“When I saw these towering glass structures from the window of a bus, touring thorough Shanghai’s Pudong district, my rising adrenalin levels caused anxiety in me, yet a sense of excitement and inspiration overcame me in imagining the power of these projectile-like symbols of growth, newness and power reaching toward — like weapons in combat — the bleak, grey skies above. This parallels the feeling that HIV stigma causes me every day. I feel anxiety but I can turn this into a weapon of battle — giving me strength and resilience in the face of my struggle.” — Mia

Shut up and love me

“For me, the biggest hurdle that having HIV presents me is whether I’ll ever find love. I kind of hold back from exploring relationships because I fear rejection due to my HIV status. One day I want to be able to just say to someone: “Shut up and love me!” HIV doesn’t define me. I’m just like any other boy out there! I am Jase and at 22 years old I’m really keen to find the love of my life and live a normal, happy, contented life knowing that my HIV won’t hold be back.” — Jase

Weathering the storm

“Diagnosed with HIV in August 1990, I wasn’t sure what to do. Back then, everything about HIV was bad news, sad faces and negativity.  I looked out into the bleak, wintery Melbourne day and the thick grey clouds seemed overwhelming. Below the clouds in the garden, I noticed the red camellia tree —stunning how a small piece of nature could give me hope. Even clouds became big bursts of fluff that brought some kind of comfort. I decided to play this game differently. Turning my back on sadness, I created my own game and put on a happy face. I looked to my future with music and a smile. I’m still smiling.” — Dimitri

No regrets, only longing

“This photo was taken from a taxi on a hot, steamy Saturday night during a visit to Hong Kong. This night has proven to be significant in my life, as it’s the night that HIV was passed onto me, unknowingly, during a sexual encounter with a man I picked up from a nightclub and took to my hotel room for, what was to be, a long and passionate night of unprohibited,  physical connection. I look back on this photo as representative of the wild, crazy, exotic and erotic night that it was. Despite the outcome, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. There are no regrets, only longing. I use this photo as a reference to the strength and resilience that life has afforded me in the face of adversity. This photo takes me to a place where no more harm can come to me.” — Guy

Facing the rapid

“My resilience comes from many places. Upbringing, past challenges, acceptance by others, but most of all it comes from a deep place inside me that says I am stronger than you know. This photo is me hidden behind a wall of water, facing the rapid head on. This is how I deal with stigma. I have been diagnosed for five years, after initially wanting to only know what I needed to know at the time I began to educate myself, volunteer my time, and in doing so, HIV has transformed my life — for the better.” — Sarah

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