The Archives: Cataloging the Dead

The intersection between illness and photography has always fascinated me. Seeing pictures of cancer patients offering the photographer a weak smile while receiving chemotherapy feels voyeuristic, we’re meant to feel something. Sadness? Hope? The point is we’re meant to feel an emotion that evokes us to do something. A visual image that reminds us one day we could be receiving chemotherapy and wouldn’t we want the best drugs possible to save our lives. The intentions vary, but there are always intentions. The photography associated with the AIDS epidemic is different, even the images from professional photographers reflect a desire to be seen. Each picture attempts to capture a vanishing body and those fleeting moments before death. In the last few days, I’ve combed through images only to realise that everyone pictured was dead; each photo became a visual obituary of the young and ailing.

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