Students photograph and form close bonds with Bay Area residents battling the disease
THE SANTA CLARA
April 9, 2015
Senior Holly McKenna wasn’t quite sure what she was getting herself into when she signed up for Professor Takeshi Moro’s digital photography class in the spring of 2013. A public health and psychobiology double major with an interest in photography, McKenna wanted to hone her photography skills with the intent of using them for a career in public health. Little did she know that Moro’s class would give her the chance to create meaningful relationships with people living with HIV and AIDS.
During the 10-week quarter, students in Moro’s class captured images of Bay Area locals who have HIV and AIDS. Through pictures and stories, the students aimed to put a vital and meaningful face to those who suffer from the widely stigmatized disease. The project is now on display in the office of Santa Clara’s Public Health Department.
McKenna worked on two separate portraits during her time in the class. She remembers her experiences fondly, citing the class as an experience of growth as a photographer.
“When I learned about this project, I was nervous,” said McKenna. “It seemed like a challenge, but I was also really excited about it. I’m a public health major, but I like to use photography as a tool for public health. This wonderful surprise was a great opportunity.”
She befriended a couple living in San Francisco’s Castro District and a young man living with HIV in San Jose. In order to learn their stories, McKenna picnicked with the couple in Dolores Park and spent time with the San Jose native at San Pedro Square. After developing relationships with them, she took their portraits.
“I really wanted to spend time getting to know them before taking the picture,” she said. “I didn’t want to exploit them. I wanted to capture their uniqueness.”
The idea for the project came about in 2013, when Stanford University Professor Abraham Verghese came to Santa Clara to speak about HIV and AIDS at the annual Gerald and Sally DeNardo Lecture on health sciences. Present at the roundtable discussion were Sally Lehrman, a senior fellow in journalism ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, and Manuel Monzon, a member of the Santa Clara County Public Health department, himself HIV-positive.
Inspired by Monzon’s desire to put a face on people affected by HIV and AIDS, Lehrman, who was working on what she called “community and intercultural based reporting,” partnered with Monzon and reached out to Santa Clara’s Department of Art and Art History. They wanted to create a meaningful photography project by profiling HIV and AIDS-positive Bay Area residents.
“Because I’m a science and medical writer, I thought this was a great opportunity to bring the community together and talk about HIV (and) AIDS in the Santa Clara County,” Lehrman said. “It’s a huge concern, yet no one talks about it. No one has any idea of how serious of a problem it is here.”
Moro accepted the undertaking and, together, the three endeavored to create a project for students to humanize those with the disease.
Working with The Health Trust, a Santa Clara based organization that promotes healthy living, the trio found a group of Santa Clara County residents living with HIV and AIDS who were willing to participate in the project.
Moro began the project in his digital photography class during spring quarter in 2013.
After spending the first few weeks establishing the technical concepts of photography, the latter half of the course was spent using these techniques for the project.
While some students were eager to begin, Professor Moro noticed that others were unsure about how to approach the topic, noting the need for sensitivity.
He stressed the importance of building a connection between the photographer and the subject to alleviate student concerns.
“Historically, photography has often been used by someone with power to document someone who is lesser,” Moro said. “The person who holds the camera holds the power. We discussed what the relationship needs to be. You can’t have a camera and abuse that tool.”
McKenna and her classmates displayed their work in June of 2013 at the Santa Clara County Government Center for an event hosted by former county supervisor Ken Yeager.
Portrait subjects, members of the university community and Santa Clara County citizens were in attendance.
Contact Nicolas Sonneburg at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.