Silence=Death 30 Years Later

By Matthew Bamberg / Jun 6, 2011

They say only the good die young. I believe that is the case for people who have succombed to AIDS at the time the disease was a death sentence before it became a “manageable chronic condition.”

The image above is what got me interested in photography. I found out that text and image could be a powerful tool of communication. A photograph that provided both could be a valuable asset to the improvement of humanity. The image sent shockwaves across the country when it first appeared around 1990. You don’t see it around much anymore. At the time the image came out, I was enrolled in a “text and image” class at San Francisco State University. You bet that that was the image which became the focus of the course.

News reports commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of AIDS, focus on people who are alive thirty years later, struggling to survive with what is called a “manageable chronic condition.” Images of fiftish men show weak individuals glad to be alive.

That is only part of the story. Some of it is getting lost in history.

Back in 1981, I lived in an apartment in Haight Ashbury. A roommate of mine had been sick all the time. As a positive person, he thought nothing was wrong with him and it would pass.

It didn’t. He got sicker and sicker, until finally at forty years of age got put into a nursing home. Nobody knew what was wrong with him. He had several viruses that caused sores the size of silver dollars all over his body. They were painful.

He died within a period of several months after going crazy with AIDS dementia.

A few months later the newspapers all over town were covered with headlines about a disease called GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency).

That was it. They found it. That’s what the roommate died from.

In 1988 one of the most shocking photography events took place. The photographer Robert Mapplethorpe produced images of people who were covered with lesions from one of the AIDS related diseases called Karposi’s Sarcoma, a disease which left sufferers with purple lesions all over their body.

Those images appear to be lost, impossible to find on the Internet.

One can only wonder where they are.

About the author

Matthew Bamberg

Matthew Bamberg has provided photographs and written articles for various Southern California newspapers and magazines, including The Desert Sun and The Press-Enterprise. More recently, Matt has been teaching at UC Riverside while also authoring several books like the Quick and Easy Secrets book series (Cengage), Killer Photos with Your iPhone (with Kris Krug and Greg Ketchum, Cengage), the 50 Greatest Photo Opportunities in San Francisco (Cengage) and Digital Art Photography For Dummies (Wiley).