Living with HIV is a frightening prospect, but millions of people do so every day. For some, the stigma accompanying their status is even more terrifying: people can be cruel, demeaning and afraid of those with HIV, treating them as though they are less than human or that they are to blame for the condition. Photographer Edo Zollo seeks to change these misconceptions through his series, “Stand Tall, Get Snapped.”

Zollo, an Italian-born resident of London, once had a scare of his own after having unprotected sex with an HIV-positive partner. Though he was eventually declared virus-free, he felt he had seen a snapshot of what it was like to have HIV and the attitudes surrounding it, as well as AIDS. According to The Guardian,  he said of his ordeal:

“It was a nightmare. The next day, I was really worried. What was going to happen to me if I was HIV positive? I thought: ‘I am going to die.’ How would I tell my family? Would I be judged? It made me realise what the impact of living with HIV could be.”

Because of this experience, he decided to create a project devoted to destigmatize those who are living with HIV. Plus, this year marks the 30th anniversary of the death of Terrence Higgins, the first U.K. man to die of an AIDS-related complication after AIDS was recognized there. He set his heart on taking portraits, such as the one above, of people living with the virus. “I wanted to do something about it. I wondered what it was like for people whose tests were positive. How did they feel?… I thought, what about taking pictures of 30 people, to break down the stereotypes? HIV impacts on everybody.”

Though Zollo had a difficult time trying to find 30 subjects–many did not want their photograph taken, as they felt it was too public an arena to have their HIV status revealed. However, he was eventually able to not only take portraits of 30 people living with HIV, but also to hear their stories. One of the ones that touched him the most:

“The one that made the biggest impression was a heterosexual woman called Gemma who contracted the virus from an ex-boyfriend. She got pregnant, and the baby was born HIV positive. She was in such a negative spiral, the baby was taken away from her and put up for adoption. That broke my heart.”

Zollo hopes that his exhibition of the portraits, currently at the Reading Room Gallery in London through January 3, will help relieve some of the difficult stereotypes and stigmas that affect those living with HIV every day. If you’re interested in seeing more, take a look at this video including many of Zollo’s subjects.

People who happen to be HIV-positive are still (obviously) people, and should be treated with respect. Giving individuals their own voices–as opposed to simply grouping everyone together as statistics and examples in PSAs–will hopefully help decrease the negative views much of the public still holds.

[The Guardian]

Photo by Edo Zollo