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"He wanted, he said, to die with his family around him."
July 23, 2010 6:27 AM   Subscribe

The Photo That Brought AIDS Home
posted by the other side (92 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow, I'd never seen that photo before. Very powerful.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:34 AM on July 23, 2010


I never really knew the story behind it. Powerful. thanks.
posted by ms.jones at 6:35 AM on July 23, 2010


I never knew the story before, but I have long felt that that is one of the most iconic pieces of photojournalism from the past 50 years.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:38 AM on July 23, 2010


I really appreciated the back story about his family, and how they cared for the friend who cared for him when "his time came" as well. I know I thought some cartoonish, stereotypical things about the family surrounding the bedside when the photo first came to my attention--the reality is so much more beautiful and tragic.
posted by availablelight at 6:41 AM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I remember it this way. By 1992, AIDS was already well driven home, thank you -- I'd wager it was a bigger concern to most Americans than it is today.

It wasn't photojournalism, it was an advertisement. Casting it as an image that made a difference in ways more important than Benetton revenues is revisionist history.
posted by gum at 6:43 AM on July 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


Wait, what's this about a Benetton ad??
posted by hermitosis at 6:44 AM on July 23, 2010


The Benetton ad.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:49 AM on July 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Benetton Pieta.
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 6:49 AM on July 23, 2010


It wasn't photojournalism, it was an advertisement.

It started out as such.

From the article:
"In November, 1990, LIFE magazine published a photograph of a young man, David Kirby -- his body wasted by AIDS, his gaze locked on something beyond this world -- surrounded by anguished family members as he took his last breaths. The haunting image of Kirby's passing (above), taken by a journalism grad student named Therese Frare, became the one photograph most identified with the HIV/AIDS epidemic that, by then, had seen as many as 12 million people infected. Now, 20 years after her photograph helped transform public perception of the disease, LIFE spoke with Frare about that picture; the international controversy it sparked when United Colors of Benetton used it in a 1992 ad; and the never-before-published photographs she took before and after David Kirby's death -- photos that reveal the untold story behind one of the 20th century's most heart-breaking, indelible images."
Read more about how it became an ad, etc. in the FPP article.
posted by ericb at 6:50 AM on July 23, 2010 [7 favorites]


OK, I need to stop looking at these pictures because otherwise I'm going to start bawling at work. Thanks for posting though.
posted by Ted Maul at 6:52 AM on July 23, 2010


Yes, this image was the American Apparel shock-ya campaign of the early 1990s -- stuff like this, too.

This image didn't open the public's eyes to AIDS, it opened the public's eyes to AIDS marketing opportunities.
posted by gum at 6:52 AM on July 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


Here is a little bit of information about the Campaign History of Benetton Ads.
posted by Fizz at 6:53 AM on July 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


Also of note:
"You know, at the time the Benetton ad was running, and the controversy over their use of my picture of David was really raging, I was falling apart," Frare now admits. "I was falling to pieces. But Bill Kirby told me something I never forgot. He said, 'Listen, Therese. Benetton didn't use us, or exploit us. We used them. Because of them, your photo was seen all over the world, and that's exactly what David wanted.' And I just held on to that."
It wasn't photojournalism, it was an advertisement. Casting it as an image that made a difference in ways more important than Benetton revenues is revisionist history.

I disagree. Casting it as only an advertisement is revisionist history. He was a real man, who really died, and the pain of his family was real. I remember seeing it for the first time and it sure as fuck wasn't selling t-shirts at the time.
posted by Happy Dave at 6:54 AM on July 23, 2010 [20 favorites]


Sorry, Life Magazine was seen by almost nobody in 1990 -- it showed up every other month or so on grocery checkout aisles and that was it. Nobody looked inside it. The image became iconic as a clothing ad, not as a journalistic image.
posted by gum at 6:54 AM on July 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


BTW -- the photo earned a World Press Photo Award in 1991, so I'd say that qualifies it as photojournalism.
posted by ericb at 6:55 AM on July 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


Not to diminish this guy's death and his family's suffering one little bit! But millions of people were dying of AIDS by 1992, and I remember how nauseated communities like ACT UP and Queer Nation were when they realized all their millions of hours of organizing were nothing compared to one corporate ad buy.
posted by gum at 6:56 AM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


"'I started grad school at Ohio University in Athens in January, 1990,' recalls Frare, now a professional photographer in Seattle. 'Right away, I began volunteering at the Pater Noster House, an AIDS hospice in Columbus, maybe 50 miles from Athens. In March, I started taking photos there for a school project, and got to know the staff and amazing people like Peta, who was volunteering and caring for David. ... Kirby passed away in April, 1990, at the age of 32, not long after Frare began shooting at the hospice. She spent much more time, it turns out, with Peta, who himself was HIV-positive while caring for David. Frare photographed Peta over the course of two years, until he, too, died of AIDS, in the fall of 1992."
posted by ericb at 7:00 AM on July 23, 2010


I remember how nauseated communities like ACT UP and Queer Nation were when they realized all their millions of hours of organizing were nothing compared to one corporate ad buy.

I can see why that would be nauseating, but how is Benetton to blame for people in general being jerks?
posted by mkb at 7:00 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's not an accident that part of the power of the image is that David Kirby looks a bit like a dying Jesus. I can't fully recall my reaction to it 18 years ago but it's certainly interesting to see the story around it because I do remember thinking the picture was quite exploitative. It was a clothing brand, and for all the talk about changing people's minds they were ultimately trying to get people to buy orange, green and blue pullovers.

If you go to the history of Benetton's campaigns Fizz linked to, some of its later adverts are a bit shock for the hell of it, especially in catholic Italy.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:01 AM on July 23, 2010


From his mother:
"'My son more or less starved to death at the end,' says Kirby, describing a terrible symptom of the disease. 'We just felt it was time that people saw the truth about AIDS', Kay Kirby remembers, 'and if Benetton could help, then fine. That ad was the last chance for people to see David -- a marker to show that he was once here, among us.'"
posted by ericb at 7:02 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've seen this picture before, but now, as a new parent, I find it particularly heartbreaking to see David's parents in their last moments with him. I don't think we ever imagine when we see our children born, that we will one day be cradling them on their death bed. Witnessing their anguish is all but overwhelming.
posted by sunshinesky at 7:04 AM on July 23, 2010 [13 favorites]


gum

I can appreciate the anger and frustration that groups like ACT UP and Queer Nation experienced when they realized that a single image had more of an impact than their movement, but shouldn't they just embrace the fact that it brought attention to their cause. You would think that they would use it to their advantage.
posted by Fizz at 7:04 AM on July 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


It wasn't photojournalism, it was an advertisement. Casting it as an image that made a difference in ways more important than Benetton revenues is revisionist history.

According to TFA, the Benetton ad wasn't produced until 2 years after David Kirby passed away (and was done with the full permission and encouragement of his family).
posted by schmod at 7:05 AM on July 23, 2010


Could we not let the Benneton aspect of the story overshadow what's actually in the linked photoessay? The story of a photojournalist becoming intimately involved in a hospice community, and the story of a estranged family not only coming back together, but also extending compassion to their son's caregiver. We don't get enough articles about journalists doing the right thing on the blue.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:06 AM on July 23, 2010 [17 favorites]


Seconded. I found the pictures after the most famous one far more affecting. There's a family that completely changed their thinking when it came to AIDS, and a photographer who did some incredible work over a number of years.
posted by Happy Dave at 7:09 AM on July 23, 2010


We had Life Magazine at my school library, which is where I saw it. Of course, I saw much more of it in the Benetton ads.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:09 AM on July 23, 2010


Sorry not to be clear: The AIDS community of 1992 wasn't nauseated by the disproportionate power of corporate advertising, it was nauseated by the fact that it took a health crisis and turned it into dying Jesus selling pantaloons. It was people whose friends were dying versus people whose friends were experimenting with AIDS chic. That's what was nauseating. The activists I knew considered Benetton an exploiter, not an ally.
posted by gum at 7:10 AM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Maira Kalman, illustrator, author and designer, is a guiding force behind M & Co., the design firm started by her later husband, Tibor Kalman:
'Tibor didn’t think of himself as a designer. He really was an editor and a journalist who believed that he had a moral obligation and a political desire to expose issues and make them as sexy as possible so an audience - - primarily kids, but really everybody - - would look at them. He understood that because people have short attention spans, they have to be engaged quickly.

Advertising is a powerful tool for selling ideas. Tibor didn’t think it was a crime for companies that really cared about what they were espousing socially to also make money. So within this context, he considered advertising that would focus on AIDS awareness as beneficial and worthy.

Tibor, working with Oliviero Toscani, had helped create campaigns for Benetton and was the editor of Benetton’s Colors magazine. In November, 1990, while reading Life, Tibor ran across a black-and-white documentary photo. It showed an Ohio family around the bed of David Kirby, a 32-year-old man dying of AIDS. Tibor and Benetton approached the Kirby family and the photographer, Therese Frare. Benetton contributed generously to an AIDS foundation, with the family’s consent. The family approved of the use of the image and came to New York for a press conference. There was a collaborative feeling among all involved that you had to really punch people in the face with this incredibly epic and devastating moment and make them aware of it. You would stop and look at it. You would have a conversation about it, whether you hated it or loved it. It would promote heated dialogue. Tibor and his team spent a long time agonizing over colorizing the image, which they did, to take it out of the journalistic field and make it appear more as an ad, so that it was even more shocking in its context and would hopefully be more arresting. For a while, the photo and the ad became a central focus of the AIDS debate.

In June of 1994, Tibor conceived and helped create an image of Ronald Reagan for Colors - - showing Reagan’s face, manipulated electronically, as if he had contracted AIDS. Reagan was villainous in Tibor’s eyes for having done virtually nothing during his administration to address the concerns of people with AIDS. To make the leap and visually give Reagan AIDS was so shocking and so courageous. The text that accompanied the photograph was a fake obituary that spoke to how Reagan was a national hero because he not only admitted that he had AIDS but he had diverted funds from the defense department to fight it. It said that we mourned the loss of a courageous leader who had done all the right things from the very beginning when AIDS was first becoming an epidemic. It was photography as political parody.

Tibor believed in the photograph as the universal communicator, for AIDS and for many subjects of significance. As such, issue thirteen of Colors, which came out in December of 1995, had no words at all. The exploration of visual expression led him to ask, in the spirit of Edward Steichen’s "The Family of Man" exhibition or Charles and Ray Eames’s Powers of Ten: How can we have the most eloquent, resonant dialogue with no words at all? You’re telling a story, preferably with humor, and everybody from a 10-year-old child to a 90-year-old, in any culture, could get it.'
posted by ericb at 7:14 AM on July 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Early on," Frare says of her time at Pater Noster House, "I asked David if he minded me taking pictures, and he said, 'That's fine, as long as it's not for personal profit.' To this day I don't take any money for the picture."
posted by Ian A.T. at 7:14 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


So we have Benetton's website, the ad designer's widow, and the photographer all defending the ad. Great. Look, maybe it was different for others, but I was a young adult living in New York City saying goodbye to dying friends when the ad came out, and I don't remember anyone thinking it was anything other than completely depressing corporate behavior.
posted by gum at 7:18 AM on July 23, 2010


Wow, WTF. I don't remember this picture or the ad. I was only 14 for most of 1992, and very sheltered. I remember it being huge when Magic Johnson made his announcement, though. That's what kind of "brought it home" to my friends and me, who didn't know any (out) gay people.

(Not that we knew any NBA players or people who had hundreds of partners, either, but celebrity's a weird thing that way.)
posted by callmejay at 7:26 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


It is a very powerful photograph. I am always so disturbed and saddened to remember the time when there was nothing to be done for people with HIV/AIDS.
posted by TrarNoir at 7:28 AM on July 23, 2010


I was a young adult living in New York City saying goodbye to dying friends when the ad came out, and I don't remember anyone thinking it was anything other than completely depressing corporate behavior.

I don't believe you're the group that David's family and Therese Frare were hoping would see the image. Of course you saw a cynical corporate image; the only thing you hadn't seen in that context was a little corporate logo. For much of the world, the corporate logo was the only familiar thing on the page.
posted by mikeh at 7:29 AM on July 23, 2010 [11 favorites]


Until this post I'd never seen or heard of the photo, the ad campaign, or even Benetton. After I read the photo essay, I looked up the advert. You mean they took this [touching; poignant; powerful] photo and used it to...sell clothes? What. The. F***!?

Thanks for the post.
posted by The Lurkers Support Me in Email at 7:35 AM on July 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


"I made up my mind when David was dying and Peta was helping to care for him, that when Peta's time came -- and we all knew it would come -- that we would care for him. There was never any question. We were going to take care of Peta. That was that."

Sometimes people are so goddamn beautiful.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:36 AM on July 23, 2010 [12 favorites]


Also: Obligatory Onion link.

And, yeah. It is pretty intense.

Washington DC's HIV/AIDS rate surpassed that of some countries in Western Africa a few years ago.
Admittedly, this is partially bullshit, as the percentage of DC residents with full-blown-AIDS is almost certainly lower, thanks to effective treatments available in the US. Treated properly, HIV is no longer a death sentence, or really much of a hinderance.
posted by schmod at 7:46 AM on July 23, 2010


Yeah, what Ted Maul said...
posted by Brodiggitty at 7:49 AM on July 23, 2010


You mean they took this [touching; poignant; powerful] photo and used it to...sell clothes? What. The. F***!?

This is also my reaction, previously completely unaware of this photo and the associated ad. It seems so bizarre ... can somebody tell me if it worked? Was this a very successful set of ads?

It still seems awful to me that they'd do it, but at least the family didn't mind.
posted by kingbenny at 7:56 AM on July 23, 2010


I've always thought that the man who is dying in this picture looked like Jesus, and wondered if this picture ever convinced some of the more hard-hearted Christians to reconsider their hateful anti-gay ways.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:59 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here is a little bit of information about the Campaign History of Benetton Ads.

Following on from that link...
The company is known for sponsorship of a number of sports, and for the provocative and original "United Colors" publicity campaign. The latter originated when photographer Oliviero Toscani was given carte blanche by the Benetton management. Under Toscani's direction, ads were created that contained striking images unrelated to any actual products being sold by the company.

These graphic, billboard-sized ads included depictions of a variety of shocking subjects, one of which featured a deathbed scene of a man (AIDS activist David Kirby) dying from AIDS. Others included a bloodied, unwashed newborn baby with umbilical cord still attached (which was highly controversial), two horses mating, close-up pictures of tattoos reading 'HIV Positive' on the bodies of men and women, a collage consisting of genitals of persons of various races, a priest and nun about to engage in a romantic kiss, pictures of inmates on death row, and a picture of a bloodied t-shirt and pants ridden with bullet holes from a soldier killed in the Bosnian War. The company's logo served as the only text accompanying the images in most of these advertisements."
posted by ericb at 8:02 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


This photo always stops me in my tracks. I find it immensely powerful and affecting.

He does resemble the popular conception of Jesus, especially the agonized Jesus of the cross, and the cradling of his dying body does mimc the pieta. I was raised Catholic, so those sort of resemblances hold some deep resonance with me that I don't fully understand.

What is more powerful for me is seeing his family in anguish. A family that a lazy person could characterize as fat, ignorant Midwesterners. They look like the type of family I grew up around and which would probably, especially at that time, know little about HIV/AIDS and be revulsed at homosexuality. This unfair sterotype leaps to mind but then is immediately undercut by their obvious devotion to thier son and their deep sorrow.

It is incredible moving to regard the pain of others in a photograph (Sontag wrote a short book about this theme) and deeply unsettling at the same time. A conflagration of terror and awe that, for perhaps reasons I guessed at above, really gets to me in a way few photographs have.
posted by Falconetti at 8:03 AM on July 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


They look like the type of family I grew up around and which would probably, especially at that time, know little about HIV/AIDS and be revulsed at homosexuality. This unfair sterotype leaps to mind but then is immediately undercut by their obvious devotion to thier son and their deep sorrow.

My partner died of complications from AIDS. Having not been 'out' to his family, he said to them:
Mom & Dad, I've got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that 'I'm gay.' The bad news: 'I've got AIDS.'
Floored his family, but they quickly came around accepting him, us and being tremendous caretakers. And I saw this repeated many times with other friends' families. It's unfortunate that it sometimes takes a 'shock' to bring people around to being truly loving and accepting. In many ways I viewed this photograph and advertisement back then as serving a similar function, particularly in a time when there was so much 'silence' and negative stigma about the disease and those suffering from it. That's also why the AIDS protest art was so effective in 'being in your face' and the international impact of ACT-UP forced people to confont the plague.
posted by ericb at 8:16 AM on July 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


I dunno, I hate evil corporations and consumerist brainwashing as much as the next guy, and I'm certainly not going to congratulate some company on its edginess or artiness or consciousness-raising in the service of a buck.

But.

It's a given that evil corporations are going to advertise. It's a given that they're going to use arresting images in those ads. So the question for me becomes, would I rather see billboards of interchangeable rumpled women sticking their underwear in my face, or images that take me aback in a way that might engender thought of some kind?
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:35 AM on July 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


A couple of thoughts:

1) People should be more outraged that it took Magic Johnson getting HIV to really take the topic out of the taboo and into the mainstream

2) I wish the Life web admins would not cop out by removing all the sure to come homophobic and vile, cretinous disgusting comments (I'm guessing that first removed comment is of that nature) because I think it would be important to see that despite the 20 years there are still a lot of evil, soulless, assholes in the world and they should be allowed to advertise their hollowness for us all to see.
posted by spicynuts at 8:35 AM on July 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


I remember the Benneton ad back in 1992. Good on Life to have run these photos back in 1990, but as others have pointed out, hardly anyone read Life by 1990, it was on its last legs as print journalism. It took Benneton's (mis)appropriation of the iconic photograph in 1992 to spread it to the public consciousness.

If Life in 2010 is going to pat itself on the back for running those photos 20 years ago, it would behoove them to be much more upfront about the fact that it was Benneton that made the photo iconic. Truth be told, I'm more bothered by Life's use of the photo's now then I was by Benneton's use of it back in 1992. Even though their use of it was exploitative, it did make AIDS (albeit inadvertently) very real for millions of people at a time when MSM were reluctant to show the toll AIDS was taking on individuals and families. Life's use of it now seems to come across as a sad stab at proclaiming the fact that they were once a relevant publication.

The people who deserve the kudos here are David Kirby, his family, and his caregiver Peta for letting Therese Frare photograph all of them as he was dieing. Their the only true things in this discussion. Everything else is ephemeral.

.
posted by KingEdRa at 8:46 AM on July 23, 2010


Yes, it was awful for Benetton to use this photo to sell clothes. Yes, the photo is terrific. Yes, the photo's exposure via Benetton's ad campaign helped make AIDS more visible to some part of America. Yes, it's terrible that it took a fucking ad campaign to wake America up to all the people dying. Yes, it's possible for all these statements to be true at once.
posted by Nelson at 8:48 AM on July 23, 2010 [7 favorites]


What I recall, living in DC in the early 90s, and seeing the window displays at the Benneton store south of Dupont Circle (though I don't remember this exact one appearing; I know I saw it at the time, but I don't remember where) was how many of my friends - who had HIV, whose lovers had died or were dying - were most moved by the image of a man dying of AIDS who was being loved and cared for by his family. This was not common for a lot of the guys I knew. When they got sick, their families didn't want to know. Their families hadn't wanted to know them at all after they came out.

So while we had a lot of discussions as well about corporate co-optation of AIDS, we also recognized and valued an image of a family loving their son. At a time when there was so much overt stigmatization of and hostility (and outright violence) towards people with AIDS (some of you here may not know the story of Ryan White, for example), we also recognized the value in the globalization of an image like this.
posted by rtha at 8:51 AM on July 23, 2010


"You know, at the time the Benetton ad was running, and the controversy over their use of my picture of David was really raging, I was falling apart," Frare now admits. "I was falling to pieces. But Bill Kirby told me something I never forgot. He said, 'Listen, Therese. Benetton didn't use us, or exploit us. We used them. Because of them, your photo was seen all over the world, and that's exactly what David wanted.' And I just held on to that."
posted by togdon at 8:52 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


The 8-year-old Benneton controversy is a footnote to an extraordinary series of photographs that document an extraordinary relationship among the Kirbys, Peta, and Frare.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:02 AM on July 23, 2010


Heartbreaking
posted by nola at 9:15 AM on July 23, 2010


Sorry, Life Magazine was seen by almost nobody in 1990 -- it showed up every other month or so on grocery checkout aisles and that was it. Nobody looked inside it.

Then the publishers were pretty daft to keep printing 1.7 million copies every month, weren't they? If only they had had your insight. (1.7 million is about what, say, Entertainment Weekly prints currently, and they are not exactly obscure. )

In any event, the picture was widely reproduced and was quite well-known before Benetton appropriated it.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:23 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


'Tibor didn’t think of himself as a designer. He really was an editor and a journalist who believed that he had a moral obligation and a political desire to expose issues and make them as sexy as possible so an audience - - primarily kids, but really everybody - - would look at them.

Ha! Give me a fucking break. "I'm a serious journalist! But I need a lot of money. So I will will work in corporate advertising and not the news. But I'm still a journalist, not a corporate ad man, even though my photos are branded with a corporate logo!" How do you not split your skull open twisting your brain into the pretzel knots of deluded self-justification necessary to maintain this attitude? Newsflash, guy: Benetton is not a human rights organization, and you are not a journalist. You want to be considered a journalist doing human rights work? Take the pay cut and go work at a human rights organization.
posted by The Straightener at 9:29 AM on July 23, 2010


"You know, at the time the Benetton ad was running, and the controversy over their use of my picture of David was really raging, I was falling apart," Frare now admits. "I was falling to pieces. But Bill Kirby told me something I never forgot. He said, 'Listen, Therese. Benetton didn't use us, or exploit us. We used them. Because of them, your photo was seen all over the world, and that's exactly what David wanted.' And I just held on to that."

These are the words of good-intentioned, loving people, rationalizing the unwise decision they made to let a bad company run an offensive advertisement. They turned their friend, their son, into kitsch.

Would we accept the use of any of these images to sell clothing if we convinced ourselves that the people depicted would approve?
posted by gum at 9:33 AM on July 23, 2010


A moving piece, and very interesting. The bit I found most affecting was the picture where it's revealed how thoroughly heartwarming Kirby's parents were, not only in the care they gave him as he died, but then going on to care for Peta.

I am mostly too young, and lived in too rural an area to really notice the devastation of AIDS in the late 80s and early 90s, but to look back on it now it seems like we don't talk about it nearly as much as the numbers deserve, particularly as it's an ongoing problem, and still in as terrifying a statistical sense in a few parts of the world.

As nola said. Heartbreaking.
posted by opsin at 9:37 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, in response to all the comments from gum, you seem to be angry at the idea that anyone looks at this article and takes anything from it other than rage at Benetton. Isn't that sort of continuing exactly what you're upset with them for?

Yes, the people interviewed are rationalising something fairly appalling, but as you said, no one was reading Life, so the only way it got out there and anyone knows it is from the ad, and also, to me it only makes Benetton look bad; like ruthless, heartless shitbags, I don't have any problem with the family or the photographer given their motives and part in the events.

The fact that this is about the photographer more than anything, who took the photo as journalism, and clearly never intended it to be used for any other purpose means that focussing on the ad takes away from the purpose of looking back on it. As KirkJobSludere very eloquently said, the ad controversy is a footnote to an extraordinary series of photographs. Anything more, certainly in this instance, is a disservice to the motive, care and time given by the family, photographer and subjects.
posted by opsin at 9:49 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm assuming that CD sales count.
posted by togdon at 9:51 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is a fascinating story that I knew absolutely nothing about. Like callmejay, I was only 14 in 1992, and not really that sheltered, but this never crossed my consciousness. However, also like callmejay, the Magic Johnson thing really did bring HIV/AIDS to the forefront for me and most of my friends.

Ok, that's not *completely* true... We had already learned about it in sex ed class... But none of us really thought it was something to be too concerned about.
posted by antifuse at 9:51 AM on July 23, 2010


But I'm still a journalist, not a corporate ad man, even though my photos are branded with a corporate logo!"

FWIW -- Kalman was not the photographer for the ad campaign. Oliviero Toscani was.

Tibor Kalman was an incredible graphic designer who worked alongside his wife, Maria*. One of his other roles was editor-in-chief for Colors magazine in which these ads appeared.

He died of non-Hodgkins lymphoma in May 1999.

* -- Maria Kalman previously on MeFi -- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
posted by ericb at 9:54 AM on July 23, 2010


Anyone who thinks that Colors Magazine was nothing more than a catalog for Bennetton either wasn't alive then and should pipe down or is completely clueless and should do some research.
posted by spicynuts at 9:56 AM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Gum, I really don't think that's the sort of judgement you can make about the decision these people made. It's been two decades and you're viewing it from a very different point in the HIV/AIDS timeline. 18 years later, we're talking about this advertisement/photo. It's one of the most memorable images of the decade. Even if Benetton sold some clothes with this (hardly seems likely), overall I'd say the ad was a good thing.

Those photos you linked to are awesome, but why were you even aware of them? Imagine if the Nick Ut photo you linked to had gone unnoticed by the public for a year or two. Imagine if people were still ignoring Vietnam at that point. If Kim Phuk's parents had decided to let the photo of their daughter be used by Marlboro and it caused people to actually stop and think about Vietnam, I'd call that a win. Even if it sold some cigarettes I'd have a hard time criticizing either Marlboro or her parents.
posted by pjaust at 10:05 AM on July 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Mods: Can we please clean up the derails in here? This is veering horribly off-track, and also turning into a flamewar. This is a post about the photograph; not the ad campaign it happened to be featured in.
posted by schmod at 10:07 AM on July 23, 2010


Would we accept the use of any of these images to sell clothing if we convinced ourselves that the people depicted would approve?

Well, they probably wouldn't succeed in selling any clothes, but if the people in them approve, I say go for it. I refuse to morally condemn the use of an image that the subjects themselves are okay with.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:07 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


...it seems like we don't talk about it nearly as much as the numbers deserve...

I highly recommend seeing the Academy-Award winning 1989 documentary 'Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt' to get a sense of the scope of the devastation brought on by AIDS here in the U.S. It portrays the period before 2005 when a truly effective combination therapy or highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) -- aka the AIDS cocktail -- was used for treating HIV.
posted by ericb at 10:08 AM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


not the ad campaign it happened to be featured in.

I don't think you can disentangle the two.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:08 AM on July 23, 2010


colors magazine

Issue 7 [4], released in early 1994, covered AIDS in a bluntly straightforward manner, something no other form of media had been willing to do until that time. It also caused a huge uproar because it featured a full-page photograph of the face of former US president Ronald Reagan doctored to look like an emaciated AIDS patient with Kaposi's sarcoma lesions [5].

interesting.
posted by sio42 at 10:10 AM on July 23, 2010


... or books. Also, Kim Phúc went on to use her experience as a burn victim to help other burn vicitims, it'd be hard to argue that she'd have as large of a platform if not for the notoriety of that image.

Note that I'm not defending Benetton, rather saying that the Kirbys and Frare used David's image to shine a light on what was happening for lots of people who were otherwise either ignoring it or unaware.
posted by togdon at 10:11 AM on July 23, 2010


You seem to be angry at the idea that anyone looks at this article and takes anything from it other than rage at Benetton.


I objected to the presentation of this image in 2010 as "iconic photojournalism" when the vast proportion of its impact when it appeared in the early 1990s was as a controversial clothing advertisement image. The "article" is PR copy. The links from Life Magazine, Benetton's PR pages, and the advertising agency distort the historical meaning of this image, take it out of the context of that exploitative decision, and strip it of that adhering meaning.

There are a million wrenching images and a million heartbreaking stories about this thirty-year crisis. We do not need to be resurrecting and rehabilitating a clothing advertisement as "the photo that brought AIDS home." That assertion is factually untrue, and it is not a disservice to David Kirby and the people who loved him to insist on that.
posted by gum at 10:32 AM on July 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


"We never had any reservations about allowing Benetton to use Therese's photograph in that ad," Kay Kirby told LIFE. "What I objected to was everybody who put their two cents in about how outrageous they thought it was, when nobody knew anything about us, or about David."
posted by magstheaxe at 10:36 AM on July 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


These photos are amazing in and of themselves. I don't care whether they were eventually used for an ad campaign or not.

I'd agree with gum that, regardless of what Benetton did or didn't do, HIV/AIDS was a much bigger source of concern in the Western world in 1992 than it is today. In many ways, the disease has gone back where it began, in stealth mode -- at least in the West.

I'm very glad that David Kirby's family loved him as much as they did.
posted by blucevalo at 10:40 AM on July 23, 2010


I think it would be important to see that despite the 20 years there are still a lot of evil, soulless, assholes in the world

I think that most people who care already know that.

I don't really want to visit a page about a man dying of AIDS and then see a lot of comments about how he--and probably me--deserve to die. I think we get enough of that in the world that keeping it off a page about a man's last moments doesn't keep anyone in ignorance.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:44 AM on July 23, 2010


I was 14, like a few others, when the ad ran. I doubt I ever saw it -- was it run in Canada? Regardless, HIV/AIDS was brought home for me in a very strong way that summer. This was just after grade 8. I'd had a few years of aids education in health class at that point. I was volunteering at the hospital at that time. Standard teenage duties: changing garbage, filling water jugs, etc. I did these things for every room.

One morning I went in to one room to change a patient's water jug and garbage. He was clearly very ill. Looked very much like David Kirby in his photograph. He had a friend sitting by his bed. The man tried to talk to me, but it was completely incoherent. I couldn't understand him. I was a little frightened, but went about my duties.

As I was coming out of his room, a nurse took me aside and said "Don't go into that room again."

"Why not?" I asked.

"Do you know what AIDS is? He's got that. Don't go back in there."

I remember thinking at the time something along the lines of "I can't catch it by changing his garbage and water". But I didn't say anything. And I didn't go back in the room.

But I can still remember that man's face, to this day.
posted by aclevername at 10:47 AM on July 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


Ooops. Correction: It portrays the period before 2005 1995.
posted by ericb at 10:51 AM on July 23, 2010


"My husband and I were hurt by the way David was treated in the small country hospital near our home," Kay Kirby says. "Doctors and nurses wore gloves and gowns whenever they were around him, and even the person who handed out menus refused to let David hold one. She would read out the meals to him from the doorway. We told ourselves that we would help other people with AIDS avoid all that, and we tried to make sure that Peta never went through it."

You know, at a time medical professionals treated AIDS patients like plague victims, this photo showing David's parents holding him close must have made a difference for some people and the way they were treated.

These are the words of good-intentioned, loving people, rationalizing the unwise decision they made to let a bad company run an offensive advertisement. They turned their friend, their son, into kitsch.

I disagree. I remember the photo, both from when it ran in Life and the ad two years later. I've never forgotten that image, but I honestly have not though twice about Benetton in the last 15 years. I think calling a picture of a dying son and his family's anguish "kitsch" is entirely subjective, and is totally unfair considering that many people who never bought a stitch of Benetton's clothing were deeply moved by that photo, regardless of how it was disseminated to them. I'm not trying to say you are wrong, or to discount your opinion at all, but it's being phrased as if that's everyone's experience with the image, and we should all be mad at Life and Tibor and Benetton and David's parents.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:59 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


We just talked about the ad in my media ethics class. I can't say I agree with it, but I can understand their reasoning. Essentially, Benetton's saying- traditional advertising is trite and powerless, so we're going to use all this money to run photos of controversial stuff that we want people to talk about, and slap our logo on it so it's technically an ad. Their creative director said “my brief is not to concern myself with commercial images to sell more T-shirts but rather to create an image for the company that touches people in all of the countries in which Benetton is present.”

Now, personally I feel like this is bullshit, and if they truly wanted to just make people think, they would (at the very least) run these photos without their logo on them. But, you know, in a way, I like it. Someone is flipping through a magazine and sees this and maybe is shocked into actually thinking about something."Shoes, shoes, dresses... the death penalty?!" It's weirdly postmodern- as an ad director, I hate ads, so I'm just going to run photos of famine victims instead, fuck it.

I would be all for it if it didn't actually... work. But it does work, so instead it's kind if disgusting. Funny how that goes.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:04 AM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


"I made up my mind when David was dying and Peta was helping to care for him, that when Peta's time came -- and we all knew it would come -- that we would care for him. There was never any question. We were going to take care of Peta. That was that."

Sometimes people are so goddamn beautiful.


I know, I have a hard time swinging from "I hate bloody people" to "I love people" at least twice every day. It makes me feel quite the psycho.
posted by Tarumba at 11:11 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


In 1994 I was working at the D&AD award show, taking down last years ads, and hanging the new submissions to the award show. One of the old ads (winning or shortlisted in -93) that was being thrown out had a photograph of the Kirby-photo, laid out in an open magazine as the Benetton ad.

Below it the line read: The only pullover this photograph should be used to sell:

underneath there was a condom, rolled out to underline the above line.

Signed "Act up", as I recall. I took it home and had that ad on my wall for years.
posted by dabitch at 11:42 AM on July 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


Whether we like it or not, it's human nature to find a single, vivid image of one or a few people more compelling than reading about an overall health epidemic. This isn't the fault of Benneton or Life or "corporations." And if they financially benefitted from something that happened to raise awareness about AIDS, then more power to 'em.
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:03 PM on July 23, 2010


News publications are for-profit businesses, too. LIFE runs photographs which it thinks will increase sales of their magazine.

But here's the thing: people usually don't have a problem with the idea that news publications have other, non-monetary reasons for their actions - things like credibility, a sense of social responsibility, and perhaps even the genuine desire to see the public informed or moved. All this, while being a for-profit business.

Yet, suggest that Bennetton might also have moral and social goals surrounding their interaction with the media...and you become a corporate apologist.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 12:07 PM on July 23, 2010 [7 favorites]


Mods: Can we please clean up the derails in here? This is veering horribly off-track, and also turning into a flamewar. This is a post about the photograph; not the ad campaign it happened to be featured in.

People should ease up on the flamewar stuff, yes. People who want to talk at length along "you're wrong no YOU'RE wrong" lines should go to metatalk or email at this juncture.
posted by jessamyn at 12:42 PM on July 23, 2010


...this photo showing David's parents holding him close must have made a difference for some people and the way they were treated.

Brings to mind Princess Diana who adopted HIV/AIDS as one of her primary causes. "Princess Diana helped raise AIDS awareness through AIDS programs and revealed to the world that victims of AIDS deserve to be treated with compassion and kindness. She played a significant role in de-stigmatizing the perceptions about the people who were HIV positive. Princess Diana allayed the prejudices regarding the AIDS victims by holding and shaking hands with them."*

"...the moment when Diana was pictured holding hands with victims of the virus signalled a watershed in attitudes."*

Oh, how one tiny gesture can mean so much.
posted by ericb at 12:45 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


People should be more outraged that it took Magic Johnson getting HIV to really take the topic out of the taboo and into the mainstream

My dad died of AIDS in 1993, two years after Magic Johnson announced he had HIV. I hated Magic Johnson for over 15 years because he lived and my dad didn't. I gave that up a couple of years ago because it won't make any difference, but I'll never stop missing my dad.
posted by croatoan at 1:00 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks for sharing that croatoan and others who have shared their own experiences with HIV. I think AIDS is pretty abstract for a lot of people here. It makes a difference when people share their real stories.
posted by serazin at 1:39 PM on July 23, 2010


People should ease up on the flamewar stuff, yes. People who want to talk at length along "you're wrong no YOU'RE wrong" lines should go to metatalk or email at this juncture.

I think this is a little complicated. I get that an endless back and forth does not work in this forum, but who gets to decide what the original post is "really about"? The Benneton angle is intrinsically linked to the photo and worth discussing - and why not have that discussion here - in a post about that photo?

At the time this happened I was frustrated, or maybe disgusted by the company using this image to sell clothes. That's my first association with that photo. When I see that photo, what most interests me about it is the advertising angle.
posted by serazin at 1:43 PM on July 23, 2010


It's fine to me if people talk about Benneton, but when it becomes one or two really angry people restating why they are angry and why Benneton sucks, that's not a discussion. Sorry if people felt I was saying otherwise. We'd rather drop a note in a thread than delete comments and have people figure it out through guesswork.
posted by jessamyn at 1:50 PM on July 23, 2010


i remember it vividly. because BENETTON used the same image for their one of their most controversial and revolutionary ad campaigns.
posted by liza at 1:51 PM on July 23, 2010


should have gone through the comments to see others posted the same. oh well :)
posted by liza at 1:53 PM on July 23, 2010


OK, fair enough.
posted by serazin at 2:05 PM on July 23, 2010


It's interesting to recall those who in the early days of the disease put a "face" on HIV/AIDS for many people who came to realize the true impact the disease was having on ALL SORTS OF PEOPLE: gay, straight, hemophiliac, famous, rich, poor, black, white, etc.

Some examples:
Rock Hudson -- 1985

Ryan White -- 1985

Randy, Robert & Ricky Ray -- 1986

Magic Johnson -- 1991

Greg Louganis -- 1995
posted by ericb at 2:12 PM on July 23, 2010


Concurrent with the LIFE magazine photo (and the subsequent Benetton ad), the 1990 film 'Longtime Companion' was one of the first films to "bring a face" to the AIDS crisis to a broader audience.

The film won many awards including Sundance Film Festival Audience Award, GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Film with actor Bruce Davison receiving an Oscar nomination and winning a Golden Globe award, an Independent Spirit Award, a National Society of Film Critics award and a New York Film Critics Circle award for 'Best Supporting Actor.'
posted by ericb at 2:27 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think any of several photographs of Ryan White might qualify as the image that "brought AIDS home," at least in the USA. (Or the 1988 TV movie, which Wikipedia says was watched by 15 million viewers.)

In the 1980s, everyone was terrified of waking up from a car accident with a unit of infected blood going into their veins . . . or their kid coming home from school infected because someone sneezed on her. Ryan White connected with everyone on the first fear, and was literally the first poster child in the long battle to teach that the second fear was spurious. He was also an early story of endurance and beating the odds when the usual arc was bleaker. And finally, of course, he sidestepped and subverted the whole faggot-junky-retribution narrative when it was at its fullest swing.
posted by gum at 3:29 PM on July 23, 2010


Yes, I agree that Ryan White, and then much later, Magic Johnson, put HIV into a context that mainstream America could relate to or even notice in a way that went beyond homophobic hysteria. (This photo was more of a blip on the national radar screen, what seemed like forever after AIDS had been in the gay consciousness and even after it was more part of the wider public conscious).
posted by serazin at 3:40 PM on July 23, 2010


Would we accept the use of any of these images to sell clothing if we convinced ourselves that the people depicted would approve?

Maybe not, but on some level it's not our decision to make. I'm not going to yell at the family that decided to accept Benetton's offer because I think their motives were understandable. But even if they weren't, what am I going to do about it? It wasn't my son, I wasn't there. I only have the faintest idea of what it would be like to make that decision. I don't think I'm a good judge.

More generally, I think the issue people have with the Benetton appropriation is authenticity; do we actually believe that Benetton, as a corporation, cares about AIDS advocacy for any reason other than to build their brand image? What does it even mean for a for-profit corporation to care about anything that doesn't directly concern their profit motive? Advertising of this sort is not unlike the concept of patronage; a wealthy benefactor pays someone to create an image to their specification in order to communicate a specific message, even if that message is just "hey, I'm a Medici and I got bucketloads of cash." (Which isn't to say that's why the Medicis commissioned art, I'm just making up a ridiculous-sounding example.) Today, we credit those paintings not to the patron but to the artist; similarly, it probably makes sense to take into account the motives of the people involved in producing the ad: the photographer, who wanted to shine a light on the lives of AIDS patients, and the art director, who at least pretended to be interested in starting a dialogue through advertising, even if you don't believe he was honest about it.
posted by chrominance at 4:11 PM on July 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


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