miguel ribeiro fernandes – HIV

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Miguel Ribeiro Fernandes

HIV In Portugal

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They were all caught by surprise. They never expected such a diagnosis, being the carriers of the HIV virus. Almost all thought being infected was impossible. In their minds they never had risk behavior. In general they have an idea that the responsibility of the infection isn’t theirs, but from the “other”. The “other” is a husband, boyfriend, a father, a mother and even doctors, responsible for blood transfusions. There are few that recognize the risk . But the big responsibility  for such a high rate of HIV infections in Portugal is the lack of prevention campaigns. This  would enter the world of the “other”, the common person, not only the usual group risk: drug addicts, gays and prostitutes. In fact it’s proved today that such HIV stereotypes  do not exist. We can only talk about risk behavior, not groups.

Portugal is the country with more infections per million (205) in the west of Europe, according to the latest studies of EuroHiv.

The “other” can be you and me.


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Miguel Ribeiro Fernandes


83 Responses to “miguel ribeiro fernandes – HIV”

  • aside from typing this email, i am silent with thought and prayer, i am moved.

  • Hello Miguel,

    I really do like how you have approached this story.
    It’s a hard story to photograph and you’ve show them with dignity.
    It’s also one of those projects that you can keep working on as there is so much to tell.
    One can say that a lot has already been done on this as one editor said to me when I showed them my photos from my project a few years back but yes I think a lot can still be said.
    I also like that you have captions and it gives a little more information.
    I hope you continue to work on this.


  • Strong presentation. Photos appear very over sharpened, though. So much so there are artifacts visible.

  • Miguel, I read on your bio that you like to punch people in the stomach. Your work has punched me so hard, I can feel it all the way up to my throat.

    There is a dominant theme of loneliness and utter isolation, which is very appropriate with the subject matter. I always have immense respect for photographers that can capture the soul of an individual in a portrait because I am personally very intimidated by portraits and I just think it is very hard to do.

    This is very poetic and I like the fact that it is not accompanied by music because the pictures inspired me to create a soundtrack in my imagination.

    I always wonder with work like this (portraits) how much of a role, if any, the photographer played in telling the person being photographed to act or move – so, I am asking you – did you “ask” or is this all natural?

    Thanks for sharing….

  • a powerful and thoughtful and empassioned story on the diginity and sorrow of these lives. above all what i am left with is the strength of their lives and the refusal to project pity…the children broke my heart and that you have captured them still as children, uncontestably themselves, instead of vicitims, is what makes the pain of their reality all the more difficult to fathom….

    I also was particularly appreciative of the captions….

    once again, thank you Miguel for sharing your important project and all the best for them and for the people and their families coping with this disease…

  • I just re-read your bio and my own post – just a clarification before i initiate a rumor that Miguel is a guy who walks around punching people in the stomach between HIV shoots — what i meant is I felt the punch here with your powerful pictures……apologies.

  • powerful…
    but the story is LOUD..

  • I thought that some of those were dust particles on the negatives.

  • Astounding. The images themselves are beautiful and the topic gives them immense meaning and emotion.

  • Miguel, your essay manages to bring renewed awareness and compassion to this ongoing annd escalating tragedy of AIDS & HIV. For those of us who have lost a loved one to this terrible disease, your images bring back all the pain, but they also bring back the sense of dignity we saw even in the last days of our loved one’s life. You show the mixture of shame and courage so often seen in persons living with AIDS/HIV. I thank you for the respect you bring to this work. Your compassion shines through every image.

    My dear friend’s biggest fear was that he would be forgotten. I’m sure you help each person you photograph know that they are important, their lives have not been in vain, they will be remembered. Please continue working on this project. It is important.


  • i agree that these are portraits shot in a way that give dignity to the subjects.

    as a body of work, i think it will improve the more it is worked on (obviously!)

    what i mean though, is that i feel that with the way it has been shot, it will be stronger when the photographer has enough portraits and subjects that there is only one portrait of each person.

    I’m not sure, but i think there were 19 photographs in total, and around 6-7 different people. with the way it was shot (consistent in style – quite set up and posed) having 2-3 pictures of each person didn’t really bring anymore or tell me anymore about that person if you see what i mean? (especially as the captions were the same.)

    Once the photographer has, say, 20 portraits of different individuals, then it will (for me anyway) become a really strong body of work.

  • Yes, I agree with what Ben writes.

    Keep working on it, it’s important!

  • Not a rumor anymore Laura – he does punch people in the stomach. He just did me right where I couldn’t handle.

    Thanks Miguel – very powerful

  • Inspiring work and an import story. Was there a reason there was no sound? I thought some music, or some interviews might have really helped this get even better, but maybe it was better without sound?

  • I thought the same, but more on the lines of more different shots of less individuals. I guess it depends on whether you want to describe as many different ones as possible or portray a process.

  • I do not get this at all. What is this trying to show/tell/ask me?
    Without the captions I would have no idea about any connecting thread between these people[is THAT it?]
    I want to respond to an image, or set of images, from the gut, but these just leave a space where feeling should be[is THAT it?]
    I do not feel them as having something ‘other’ that sets them apart from the rest of the mass. I want to think that this is me out of kilter with the vision of the photographer [which of course, it is], but I am left feeling that something, for me at least, is missing here[…is THAT it?]
    I thank miguel for making and showing this work.
    One persons[mine] reaction to it is just that.
    I am in no way belittling the work on show here, just trying to honestly articulate my experience of it in the best way I can
    I have lived, and been around the death, that this disease entails for a very very long time.
    Death, suicide, slow decay and alienation have been a constant part of the world I inhabit for more than twenty years. I used to have a photo, its gone now, of around fifteen young smiling teenagers, my then girlfriend among them, who are now all dead either by their own hand[girlfriend] or by this illness along with so many more that to count is pointless.
    This story is old and has been done well.
    The story of ‘its now anyone, not just the junkies and queers’ is newer and is the one i think miguel has alluded to here.
    The story of living half a lifetime time preparing to die and then having to come to terms with LIVING; thats the story that nobody has told yet.

  • Hello Laura, yes, this are almost all composed images, mostly because of the need to hide some identities. But I feel it like natural, that is, I didn’t asked them to feel the way they did, I tried to capture there mood. thank you and best, miguel

  • Ola Miguel !
    Gosto muito das fotos, do sentimento de solidao, um especie de timidez (embaraço ?) e afastamento que sentimos quando os ver… Acho que conseguiste o tal “empurrao no estomago” que falas no teu site…
    Depois, posso concordar um pouco com o Ben, a lendas deveriam contar um pouco mais das pessoas, que aparentemente chegaste a conhecer.
    Mas no trabalho fotografico em si, acho que estas là, os fotos tem força e personalidade, força !
    Até mais !

  • Hi Patricia, thank you for the comment and sharing, I do hope that my work battles the stigma associated to HIV. and yes, I’m going to continue working on it. best, miguel

  • hi ben, I understand what you’re saying, I’m going to work more on the subject, but all this photos are so important for me… It seems that I will have to “kill some babies”. many thanks and best, miguel

  • Hi Byron, I don’t think music is suitable for this subject, and the interviews are in Portuguese…
    I’m going to work with same of the people photographed on video to make a multimedia piece. In English.
    thanks and best, miguel

  • Hi, I don’t think that this work will touch everyone, but this is my way of doing it. I cannot do it in any other. your interpretation is truly valid, and it’s up to each individual to do it’s own. I cannot answer your questions, that’s up to you. thank you very much for the comment ans sharing of experience. all the best, miguel

  • thank you all for the comments, really appreciate them. take care, miguel

  • I only looked at the series once, but it struck me as being visually powerful, especially considering the plight these people are facing. In my humble opinion, a number of the compositions were also very well-done.

  • Thank you bob, it’s very nice to know that people see them not as pitiful but as heroes. that’s what they are. best, miguel

  • Olá Miguel,

    I don’t feel the need of music in this work because silence says it all. As we live in the same country, I think that in the development of this importante body of work you could also show the daily struggle of doctors and nurses who try to do their best with small resources. Our country is stil far away from a structured plan regarding HIV, and I’m sure these people struggle everyday against prejudice and how to get the money to face HIV.

    Regarding your approach I’ve liked the direct and clean look you achieved as well as the respect for your subject.



    Sofia Quintas

  • I didn’t even realize there were captions until I read this comment. I didn’t have any trouble constructing a common thread without them.

  • Miguel :))

    indeed, indeed….do you know the films of Pedro Costa?…some of the portraits reminded me of Pedro’s Lisboa Trilogoy (Ossos, No Quarto da Vanda and Juventude em Marcha)_….that kind of powerful dignity from the difficulty of life….

    my beloved portugal….i can’t wait to see how your project continues to develop…it’s interesting, cause Antunes (another hero of mine) novel Que Farei Quando Tudo Arde? was just published in English this November….such much, still be wrestled with in Portugal…

    all the best :))


  • Go away, this isn’t “Hard Core Pixel Peeping.”

  • Miguel, your way of photographing your subject is the only way to go. Once you start to photograph for the editor you are lost.
    Your access here is amazing as is the obvious trust that you subjects (friends) have in you. I like your use of colour to give the whole essay a feeling of continuity. As others have already said, the dignity and humanity of your subjects shines through.

    I would love for you to share with us here (if it does not break a trust with anyone) how you gained such access?

    I agree with Ben that this is work in progress – and nothing wrong with that – sometimes you have to show work to gain access or further subjects or even funds from publication in order to continue. At the moment the text is very important. I personally would like to see your subjects in more day-to-day situations in order to show the (usually secret) struggle between illness, daily medication, hospital visits etc. and normal life, shopping, meeting friends etc.
    That said, this is your story and you tell it well. Congratulations Miguel.


  • Hi Mike, the access to people was very difficult, it may sound strange but I have been working on this subject since February 2007… And I only have about 7 days shooting….The stigma is still huge. I have had people presented by doctors and NGO’s mostly. Always researching, lot’s of negative replies. I have now made friends that are portrayed in the work, I’m going to work with them more deeply, but still haven’t really made my mind about the type of approach. thanks and best, Miguel

  • alo Sofia, thanks for the suggestion, best, Miguel beijos

  • Ah. I don’t recall seeing an essay over at Magnum’s site that looked over sharpened. So quality isn’t important at all, huh. O.K. I’ll go away.

  • Miguel, I think it’s endearing that you chose to express in this series of portraits a sense of personage and dignity, in documenting the slow act of dying from this humiliating and spiritually debilitating disease. While that’s a conscionable perspective of social documentary from which to approach this topic, I myself, think it’s the wrong or all-to-easy perspective. Your work I would suggest is not dissimilar from a lot other bodies of work, that document the same disease and its raving and consuming course in taking life without prejudice. That is not to say, it’s a bad body of work.

    For my respondent thoughts and opinions, the content of your body of work seems centred around these people unknowingly or surprisingly discovering they are HIV positive. In that growing awareness comes the finality of knowing that death will come to meet them, not of natural causes and perhaps before a previously assumed or expected time of arrival. I think it’s at this point where the magnitude of your body of work attempts to gain momentum.

    After the awareness of being HIV positive has been mentally processed, the emergence of sadness, hopelessness, and the questions of where to direct the feelings of guilt and eventually anger become tangible aspects of a dying body and mind. It’s in this spectrum and perspective of human idiosyncrasy that I think your body of work should approach this topic from.
    I think your body of work should have allowed us to see their feelings of guilt, their feelings of anger. I think your body of should have in some part given these unfortunate people some sense of release, a sense of relief even. But I think more importantly it should have gone some of the way to giving them a minute sense of closure…. through human release. That would have been something incredibly powerful to document and see.

    As it appears before me now, your body of work and its content of portraits reveal to me a sense of human maintenance, a group of people to some small degree, having learnt to cope as best as possible. The social and personal implications of the disease the have and continue to face head-on, are for me visually missing.

    As I said in the first paragraph Miguel, your work to me, seems not dissimilar from a lot of others on the same topic. In that sense I have to say your body of work although visually endearing, lacks vitality and certain amount of validity. I believe in skimming some of the previous comments, that this might be an ongoing body of work. I hope it is.

    I hope I haven’t crossed the boundaries of commentary here on Burn, this being my first time commenting. I only wanted to share my thoughts and opinions in viewing your work Miguel


  • BEN ….EVA….ALL

    maybe you are right, but i am not so sure that it matters if there are say 25 portraits of 25 different people or 50 portraits of 5 different people….why make this restriction?? for me, it is whatever works…and for me, this essay is working …this can be a book for sure….

    frankly, i would not be prone to publish yet another essay on HIV….we have all seen so many and, important as it is, HIV stories have become almost a cliche subject for so many photographers wanting to make a “mark”…but, this one sings…a sad song to be sure, but the simplicity and feeling of these photographs transcends the usual formula of so many HIV essays….

    i have never met Miguel Ribeiro Fernandes (that i know of) nor ever seen any of his work before (that i know of)…he just presented it to me here for BURN….but, my prediction is that if he continues on this essay, or others with the same feeling and passion and true AUTHORSHIP, i imagine we will all hear from him again….

    this work is not about being a “professional photographer” or trying too hard to be “good”…this work is about being a caring human being first, and using his talent without being photographically overbearing or falsely stylistic ….this alone is no small feat…..i will keep my eye on Miguel….

    cheers, david

  • JOHN….

    what you just wrote is heartbreaking….the fact that Miguel even got you to write what you just wrote says something….his portraits ARE of the living…this story is “old” , but all stories are “old”…it is always the “way” of telling a story that makes it seem “fresh” or “new”..but, i will not defend Miguel’s portraits to you because you are so “in it” in a way that i am not..i do not have the same reference point as do you…i have had no friends die from HIV…it has not hit me personally as it has you, so i must leave you alone and i do…my only suggestion is that perhaps you could be the one to deal with these feelings as an essayist yourself….i do not think you even need to photograph someone dying/living with AIDS in the same way as has Miguel…the victims of HIV go BEYOND the ones who actually have this horrific disease…it seems you may be one of those victims…i do not want to be presumptuous at all, so please forgive, but is there some way you could photograph the pain you just expressed??? either with the loved ones of those with HIV, or even with a strong portrait of yourself?? think about this please…you have used “unevolved” as your moniker….why not go for “evolved”???

    i am so pleased you are here and writing and thinking…many thanks….

    cheers, david


    you have NOT crossed any boundaries at BURN …you are contributing to a worthwhile discussion ..the whole point of BURN in fact….thank you…

    however, we do not share the same thoughts on this essay…i have seen 3,333 essays on HIV and i personally think Miguel’s to be quite different, albeit a beginning to be sure…but, i am listening to you….honestly, i do not see the “visually missing” elements of which you write, but i also realize the limitations of photography itself…Miguel made me feel EXACTLY the emotions you say are missing in the most unpretentious way….so surely photographs, like a piece of music, hit different people in different ways…the very nature of the subjectivity of photographic interpretations take in the entire depth of human perspective and emotion….the very nature of human nature dictates that we all respond differently to visual stimuli…we cannot block out all of the things planted in the back of our brain that affect the way we look at pictures as “representations” of reality..it is never just “the picture” before us…once we realize the limitations of photography, then the sky is the limit….imagining that photography can do everything, will put a choke hold on you….imagining that photography can do SOMETHING, will set you free….

    cheers, david

  • some good and thoughtful comments and i just wanted to add another thought which might also lend some perspective on Miguel’s project…

    I have lost friends from Aids and I have friends who are HIV-positive. In fact, one of my closest friends has been HIV positive for a long long time and is a remarkable filmmaker and writer. He lives just as any of us would live and while some of his films and writing (his new novel tackles HIV in a remarkably new and unique way) deal with many of the issues that some of the commentators were searching for in Miguel’s project. His name is Mike Hoolboom and is one of the great canadian filmmakers: http://www.mikehoolboom.com/

    Mike’s life and his work is a testament to the fact that HIV is neither a death sentence nor an indictment. In fact, people with HIV are no different than any of use. In fact, we as people need to get beyond our conceptions of people with HIV. I wont even use the word ‘afflicted’ because of the connotation of that word. the truth is that, like the entirety of people, people with HIV live particularly individual lives, have individual experiences and expressions and cannot be categorized into a monolithic group. They are as diverse as the entire human population, and same to their feelings and the consequences of the virus. What i found powerful in the Miguels’ work was that these portraits showed that diversity…not a lamentation but portraits that allow us to get beyond our stereotypic thoughts and conceptions.

    Like all people, people with HIV live lives as manifold as any other and it is in the telling of the lives, and not specifically the disease, that we best begin to understand the extent of what this means.

    all the best

  • David…you have me thinking…it is never just the picture before us. This limitation you speak of is something I struggle with myself. You make an excellent point saying that imagining that photography can do something, will set you free. At the risk of being forensic or medical records, the photograph is never the whole story and still not then. The children in Miguel’s essay could be the kids next door and that is the point. The healthy/unhealthy dichotomy…..the reprentation and the reality. Knowing the limitations of photography, can we be trained for a deeper viewing? Once we have our representaion, can we be set free?

  • “Portugal is the country with more infections per million (205) in the west of Europe, according to the latest studies of EuroHiv.”

    David, I think this could be one reason to have portraits of more different people as opposed to more photographs of the same people, to give the sense of the vastness of the phenomen, giving the sense of “The “other” can be you and me.”. Does that make sense?

    saluti, Eva

  • CLIFF…

    yes, i think so….first of all, we must almost always put photographs in context…..Miguel’s work needs words of course…almost all documentary photography and art photography requires text and context….there are certainly stand alone images that hypothetically “tell a story” , but even those usually require a caption or the written word in some way to have real editorial meaning…in “art world” text may be as important or even more important…doesn’t Jeff Wall’s work take on a whole new life once you have read his “artist statement”??? doesn’t Sally Mann’s work on her children at home become something different than what you might have thought had you not known those were HER children at home in their everyday life??? Without context/text one might have thought Sally was doing an essay on abused children (as some people originally thought)….

    most artists require something “supplementary” to give their medium a feeling or provide a message….without the right sound system, lighting etc., famous rock stars would die up there on the stage…without the right musical score , lighting, and script , Robert DeNiro just isn’t Robert de Niro…you can , i am sure, come up with better examples, but you get my point i am sure…

    i do not know about your use of the word “trained”….certainly the more any viewer is exposed to fine photography (or any art) by studying the classics or just looking looking and looking some more at all that has gone on before today and all that is going on today of high merit, the more one’s taste evolves…i am always amazed at how many photographers express to me a deep interest in photography and then by asking a few simple questions i realize they have not done their “homework” at all…like the photographer right here on BURN who was deeply involved in a sequencing essay and yet had never heard of Duane Michals….that would be like deciding to take up classical guitar but knowing nothing of Andres Segovia…sure sure , you are going to do your own thing….but it sure helps if you can put your own work in CONTEXT…if you do not, the publishers, gallerists, and editors you may want to meet certainly will… they can smell the uneducated a mile away…

    sorry Cliff, i have digressed a bit and over answered your question….

    cheers, david

  • The simple portraits of yours move me more than other descriptive AIDS essays.
    I can feel their pains, sorrows and angers… and feel your dignity to them in my mind.
    Please Keep going on your style.
    Thank you so much for sharing, Miguel.

  • EVA…

    yes, of course, you make sense….and maybe that IS the way to go…but not necessarily… think about this…no matter how many different people Miguel photographs, it will never be enough to convey the “numbers”…again, this speaks to the “limitations” of photography….

    BUT, one really strong photograph could represent the emotions of or the plight of thousands or millions…the power of the photograph again is about representation , not about the actual reality of numbers…that numerical statistic in print does not necessarily need to be reflected in pictures per se….

    Eddie Adams famous picture of ONE Vietnamese being gruesomely executed in the streets of Saigon told the “story” of thousands being killed on both sides of that war…would 10 pictures of 10 different people being executed been more powerful?? maybe yes, maybe no…

    in any case, i think Miguel should, at this point, have the freedom to decide if he goes deep into the lives of a few people or, to do as you and Ben suggest, and just have one shot of say 25-50 different people…i honestly could imagine it being good either way….i guess my only real point was that there should be no formula…a lot of it would depend on the layout of a book and/or the juxtaposition of prints in an exhibition…

    this is one of those things that comes from the long term involvement by the photographer who is doing deep thinking and working on a subject…and revelation usually comes after a long time has been spent with the subject…i do not think Miguel is yet at that point…now he needs to disappear into this subject…take our comments here and put them into the “bottom drawer” of his psychological cupboard…confront only himself and his subjects….this will be where the answer lies….

    cheers, david

  • Thanks for your reply David…peace and love.

  • hi James, yes, a little over sharpened the images, but not by me, no need o go away. best, miguel

  • well, Pedro Costa is my favorite Portuguese director :)

  • yeap, I do need to think it over again and alone, and that’s why also why I take so much time between shoots in this work, but the comments are very welcomed, is great to have feedback.
    Please keep going guys.
    David, we did met, in Oslo workshop, I was in Chris class :)
    thanks and best to all, miguel

  • Has I said before, all feedback for me is most welcomed, sincerely, best, miguel

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