Laband Art Gallery

Loyola Marymount University

Los Angeles, CA



Bearing Witness (to AIDS)


"Bearing Witness (to AIDS)," a photographic project by Thomas McGovern, will be on display at Loyola Marymount University's Laband Art Gallery from Oct. 16 through Nov. 20, 1999. A public reception and book signing for McGovern will take place on Saturday, Nov. 13, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the gallery, 7900 Loyola Blvd. in Westchester.

left: Peter Rodriguez, New York City, December 14, 1991. Peter Rodriguez holds his mother during a memorial service for his lover Paul, and best friend Jeff, both of who had just died from AIDS. Photograph by Thomas McGovern.


McGovern was completing his photographic studies in 1986 when he was shaken to learn that the men with whom he shared a house in the 1970s were all dead. All were gay white men who had succumbed to AIDS during 1981-1986, the early period of the disease in the U.S. that was primarily associated with the "male homosexual subculture." As McGovern began to comprehend the epidemic nature of AIDS, he assented to a personal vocation of photographing the individual stories and public events that emerged with the spread of the disease.

left: Donna Martinet, born-again Christian with AIDS, worshiping on Christmas Day. Brooklyn, New York, 1994. Photograph by Thomas McGovern.



McGovern's project started in 1987, coinciding with the upsurge in social activism and advocacy for better treatment of people with HIV/AIDS and the demand for more research into a cure for the disease. He believed this body of work reached a juncture 1997, the year of the first promising results of the new medicines, protease inhibitors, the so-called "drug cocktails". McGovern's ten-year chronicle of AIDS in America has become a defining visual record of what might be called the "middle phase" of the epidemic when the disease became the focus of cultural and political debate, the cause of new health policies, and broader public awareness of the tragic personal stories of people with HIV/AIDS, their friends and families.

left: Activist James Baggett and friends carry the coffin of fellow activist Jon Greenberg through the streets of New York City during a political funeral, July 16, 1993. Jon Greenberg died on July 12, 1993. Photograph by Thomas McGovern.


In McGovern's black and white portraits and photographs of public events, people with HIV/AIDS are seen acting or living with dignity during the term of the disease. In addition, McGovern documents the spread of the disease to heterosexuals, the black and Latino communities, and infants and children. It is the experience of these groups, says the photographer, which will form much of the narrative of this "later phase" of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Both the exhibition and the companion book allowed McGovern to "extend my vision of how photography can be used as an artistic tool while conveying the reality of an urgent social issue."

left: March 30, 1995. Grant Lewis, 14, from Licking, Missouri, is a peer educator and the only person in his small town who has AIDS. Photograph by Thomas McGovern.




McGovern was a former freelance photographer for "Village Voice," the "New York Times," and "New York Newsday," Since coming to Southern California in 1997, he has taught photography at California State University, Fullerton, and Chaffey College. He also reviews exhibitions for "Artweek" magazine and "Art Papers."

The book "Bearing Witness (to AIDS)" is published by Visual AIDS and A.R.T. (Art Resources Transfer) Press, New York, with 65 duotone images. The Laband Gallery exhibition is co-hosted by the Serra Project, a Los Angeles-based supportive outreach program established by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in 1987 that assists and houses people living with HIV/AIDS. The exhibit is sponsored by Jerry and Linda Katz.

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