|Ken Meeks by Alon Reininger, 1986|
Today, June 5, marks what public health historians consider the 30th anniversary of HIV/AIDS. As this absorbing piece from Wired explans, it was on June 5, 1981 that the first bulletin describing a case of HIV was published in any medical journal.
In the years that followed, HIV/AIDS came to be called “the gay disease” and was largely overlooked by the public. Rock Hudson’s death in 1985 put a famous face to the disease. A year later, Life magazine published a picture by Contact Press Images photographer Alon Reininger that presented HIV/AIDS in an entirely new way. No one could think dismiss the disease, the pain it caused, and the threat it represented any longer.
Reininger, who had covered the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and political unrest around the world, learned about HIV/AIDS through his acquaintance with playwright and AIDS activist Larry Kramer. “When 50 or 80 people started to [die], it became apparent that something was going on. [Kramer and I] spoke about it, and then tried to figure out how I would climb into it,” Reininger told Photo District News a few years ago. Research led Reininger to an AIDS patient named Ken Meeks, whom he photographed. Three days later, Meeks died.
One of photos Reininger got that day showed Meeks bent into a wheelchair, stick thin, his arm spotted with blood-colored lesions. But it is Meeks’s face, his eyes in particular, that gives the image meaning. The eyes, to me at least, cry out. They want to be heard. They want to tell a story that until 1986 had been ignored.
|David Kirby's death, by Therese Frare, 1990|