Focus On Living
Portraits of Americans with HIV and AIDS
An intimate look at the challenges faced by people infected with HIV and AIDS in America
More than 900,000 Americans are now living with the HIV virus. Although thousands of them die each year, advances in medical treatment have allowed many people to control the infection and survive longer. But what are their lives like? This book combines superb photographs and compelling first-person accounts to document the feelings and experiences of a wide range of Americans who are carrying the HIV virus. In these pages, men and women speak candidly about their lives, their relationships, and how they have come to terms with the presence of this chronic and potentially deadly disease.
The forty people in the book come from a diverse array of geographic, economic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds. They are young and old, gay, straight, bisexual, and transgender. Some have unexpectedly extended their lives and gone back to work, thanks to protease inhibitors and other new drugs. Others worry about the side effects of the medicines and struggle to maintain their health.
What becomes clear in these interviews is that HIV is everybody's disease—it knows no boundaries. Yet there are some in our society who still prefer to blame the afflicted rather than embrace them. By allowing HIV-positive people to speak openly and movingly about their lives, Focus on Living seeks to remove the curtain of invisibility that still cloaks the disease and to reduce the stigma that contributes to silence.
Provincetown's Response to the AIDS Epidemic
"Full page photographs with candid, personal accounts of 40 individuals and their experiences, both physical and emotional, living with the HIV virus. A stunning book that reveals the destructive path of an epidemic and the transformation of lives through hope, courage and will to survive. Intimate stories with real faces that shine through the barriers of misunderstanding and anonymity."—American Association of School Librarians
"Forty outstanding portraits of individuals with AIDS from all walks of life along with their stories are included in this beautifully created book. Roslyn Banish has presented for us a snapshot in the history of the AIDS epidemic. Her candid photographs and very interesting interviews show us how this dreaded virus has infiltrated the lives of everyone. These are not the pictures and stories of gay men and lesbians who have lived sometimes-wild lives. These, instead, are the pictures and stories of married men and women, adolescents, gay men, lesbians, and people from all cultures. The stories are not doomsday stories, but stories of first fear and then hope and then survival. Many of the stories are upbeat and show courage in battling being HIV positive. This is a book that would be recommended for all newly diagnosed HIV positive individuals to read and be able to realize that they are not alone, that one can still go on and live a normal life. This is truly one of the most inspiring photographic journals that this reviewer has seen and a book that is recommended for all libraries."—AIDS Book Review Journal
"A more apt subtitle for this work would be Self-Portraits of Americans with HIV and AIDS, for it features the life stories of 40 people in their own words. The 'interviews' are actually well-edited monologs of people affected by HIV, who describe how they became infected, how the virus has changed their lives, and how they are coping. Photographer and interviewer Banish (City Families: Chicago and London) successfully reveals the diversity of HIV's victims: they are of all races, ages, sexual orientations, and social classes, and they live in cities, towns, and rural areas. Unlike Carolyn Jones's Living Proof, which uses photography to create positive images of people with HIV/AIDS and has only brief captions describing their lives, Banish's photographs serve primarily as illustrations to the text and wisely try not to detract from the individuals' stories."—Library Journal
"“Since 1997, San Francisco photographer Banish (City Families: Chicago and London) has been interviewing and photographing Americans who are living with HIV or AIDS; this book collects 40 of her portraits along with transcriptions of her subjects' first-person testimony. An introduction from Paul A. Volberding, professor and chair of medicine, University of California at San Francisco, points to 'abuse, abandonment, hatred, and stigma,' but also to the fact that 'when people are confronted by disaster, major transformations can occur.' Banish's unadorned portraits, often shot at her subjects' homes, are subtle and dignified, and the narratives have a lucid strength, even in despair. Some of Banish's subjects have died, a fact Banish reports with feeling but without sentiment. Others tell of how new drugs and other treatment have extended their lives; as Paula Peterson writes,'"Now I feel like a full-fledged participant, and that means I fail or succeed in ways that are much like everybody else, that sometimes I'm good at living, and sometimes I'm not.' The disease crosses all lines of race, class, gender and sexual orientation, and Banish takes care to include people from all walks of life, fostering an expanded sense of community and further breaking the silence and statistics that surround people living with HIV and AIDS."—Publishers Weekly