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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


87 thoughts on “miguel ribeiro fernandes – HIV”

  1. 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.


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

  3. 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….

  4. 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…

  5. 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.

  6. 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.


  7. 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.

  8. 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

  9. 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?

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

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  13. 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

  14. 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 !

  15. 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

  16. 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

  17. 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

  18. 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.

  19. 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

  20. 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 :))


  21. 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.


  22. 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

  23. 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.

  24. 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


  25. 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

  26. 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

  28. 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

  29. 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?

  30. “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

  31. 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

  32. 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.

  33. 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

  34. 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

  35. David, thank you for you response. I tend to agree with you on the subject of visual interpretation.

    I just wanted to say having experienced close-hand, the death of several people who mean more to me than I mean to myself, has in part given me a sense and experience of the emotional and physical extremes one goes through, in seeing someone dying and conversely in being left behind to live. I have held loved people in my arms as their last breath slowly and effortlessly expelled from their body. I have had to come to terms with not being able to save a brother from a heart-attack and in the 45 mins while I performed CPR and futile attempts at heart massage to keep him alive. I have felt and still feel the consequences of guilt and anger in knowing my inadequacies. I have experienced the fracture of aids and HIV as well, directly and indirectly knowing people who have died from the disease.

    I understand that photography doesn’t hold all the answers and do not imagine that photography can do everything, because the indelible connection to the moment of every photograph, is inherently different for those looking at, as apposed to those, inside the moment. I do however subscribe to the belief that photography can do something and it has already set me free on several occasions.

    Miguel, I tend to think if you’re in this environment you have the depth of character to see and go beyond, the perhaps subjective wants, in my initial comment. I know that I would, even after my own limited first-hand experiences with dying and living with dying, struggle to produce a body of work on the subject. Despite my inhibitions towards your work, I applaud you for producing what you have.

    Thank you Miguel, thank you David


  36. after reading some comments of this ‘old’ story that never ends because like you said Miguel it could be anyone. but most of the time, involved in the emotionalweb of love or sex, no one has the sense of risk perception…
    but it’s so important to preserve our health because when you acquire HIV it’s forever and really change your life, your body, your relations with others and with yourself. it’s a continuum of drugs that change your body till you don’t recognize anymore in the mirror… the depressions… the stigma… the self-exclusion, the solitude…
    and even if i am strong, a survivor, i couldn’t keep my tears for all the people who is suffering, for all my friends that i watched dying with aids
    your work is very important and was held with such sensitivity that made me very pleased to participate (even if i can’t look to myself in photos). thank you for your interest on this matter.
    e PARABÉNS!!


    i do not have the first hand experience as do you….i have not suffered as have you….of course, you would be seeing something , or not seeing something, that would i….

    you are a very grand and articulate person….

    thank you for being here…..please stay with us…

    cheers, david

  38. DAVID :)))

    thanks, it is indeed. it’s a shame his website doesn’t have his films, but you can see parts here:





    He’s a brilliant man, an absolutely brilliant filmmaker and writer…but most importantly, he is an incredible, thoughtful, loving and generous person. He is not only gifted and smart, but so giving and deeply thoughtful. Marina and I met him when Marina interviewed him for the Online Art Magazine she had created with the gallery that used to show our work. anyway, he’s a great guy and dear dear friend. anyway, enjoy his work :)) I’ll tell him when i see him

    running to teach

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  40. unevolved neanderthal


    Thank you. The idea you mention has been on my mind for a number of years. One day perhaps, when my ability to render it as I wish it to be rendered arrives. till then i will continue to push it round the plate without eating it. Also, I can only really dance the dances I know, and I dont know the ‘essay’ that well [realistically i cant ‘dance’ at all and just make one trick pony[[crypto self]] portaits ]
    photograph, pain , expressed I think every picture i make has that in its DNA. And I like to believe that every picture is a self portrait anyway.

  41. David, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what you’ve written, and as so often I have problems with photographs and text.

    I agree with you that one single image can tell more than a whole essay, sometimes it even is better, as it hits where it has to.

    But Miguel has written a text with his images, there is mentioned more than once “you and me”, so I think, to convey this message, if this is his intention, and if the essay isn’t just as so many about AIDS/HIV in general, but about the message of you and me, then I remain the idea that more people, young, old, rich, poor, white, black or whatever ethnic group, men, woman.. etc. in different situations would fit better. Of course it all depends what Miguel wants to tell..

    saluti, Eva

  42. I can agree with the comments by David and others that this story has been told, but I also agree that this “story” can be told from many perspectives, many cultures, and every photographer will approach differently. Say one takes a look at the rich & influential of america, who are effected by AIDS/HIV and compare that to an essay on the poorest of poor in say India, Africa who are struggling to survive already impoverished conditions. same subject, different stories.

    I like this essay by Miguel b/c it speaks to me as a very nice/intimate “portrait” piece.

    I would urge anyone who is interested to check up on the work of photographer Gideon Mendel and his work with HIV/AIDS, and his commentaries about working on such a difficult/emotionally challenging subject, very moving, very strong journalism. He speaks about seeking the positive aspects, and showing the bravery and courage of his subjects when ever possible. I applaud that.

  43. Gotta love that- Somehow or other I have managed to completely miss Gideon Mendel’s work, so thankyou so much for the enlightenment Jeremy. I am not quite sure how I could have missed his stuff but its certainly worth a look.

  44. EVA…

    yes, good, you are thinking…and thinking clearly….i imagine Miguel has a lot of thinking to do to decide exactly how this all will go…whether or not he chooses to expand his demographic as you suggest will depend on so many circumstances, his energy, and his ability to finish (the hardest part)…there are always so many ways to work on this sort of essay…most photographers get stuck just not being able to make a decision…with so many choices, and theories, and possibilities, it is easy to end up stopping work because a conclusion or a working method cannot be reached…i do think if you look at any “complete” body of work by anyone, you could always imagine it could have been done differently…all of us just have to finally DECIDE and then go with our gut….if an essay is truly powerful and strong, then we tend not to question the so called “missing” elements…when we hear a good story or see a fine film we do not ask “why was such and such left out”…we live for the strength itself….the way of looking , the way of telling is often way more important than the hypothetical “list” of elements….

    many thanks for your comments….

    cheers, david

  45. Miguel,

    You have a moving essay but as I was reading your comment about the images being all composed, something bothered me with this idea. I find it hard to explain but somehow, for a dramatic subject like this, raw authenticity seems very important to me. Of course, any photographer will look at the environment to create the best image but the idea of “artificially” composing an image here maybe introduces a desire to dramatize that I am a bit uncomfortable with…. Maybe this is just me but, I would have prefered for you to naturally capture these moments of intimacy and despair vs “setting” the situation even if, at the end of the day, these are realistic and capturing the mood that you wanted to transmit….



  46. This essay alone has brought the work of Miguel, Gideon Mendel and Srinivas to our attention here at Burn. Thank you Burn and thank you Jeremy for the link to Gideon.

    Here’s a question for all who have any experience of the matter: do you find access to stories such as these easier in the Developing World (I don’t like the term but at least it is better than Third World – there is only one) than in the West (another separating term)?


  47. MIKE R…

    one of the reasons i was interested particularly in Miguel’s story was because it was done in the so called “developed West” (i do not like all these labels either)…i have never done an HIV story, but i do think in general, access for all kinds of stories is easier in the “developing” countries….this does bring up a whole new topic for discussion….please remind me to wrap a whole post around this issue….

    cheers, david

  48. Hi Mike, I think the stigma is strong in both type of societies. I don’t think we can generalize, although the access to this story hasn’t been easy at all, the place that I found more difficult to work was in the poorest country I have ever been – Chad. I think it all depends on the way you approach people, for me there’s no difference or distinction between a person from a rich or poor country. the respect is the same, or even more (not petty) to a person in a more difficult position.
    I understand your point, somehow we tend to think (at least I used to) that going to Africa and photograph a story on HIV is easier, the subjects don’t have so much problems with it, but from time (although I have never done such a story on Africa – yet) I have learned I have always problems with it, and that’s what counts, my respect to the other. Regarding the fact that the story has been already done, yes, it’s true, but the problem is still there, anywhere in the word, so I believe it’s up to me to try to do something about it, has Robert Fisk says, I don’t want to be a passive witness.
    best to all, miguel

  49. I really like the story. I think theres nothing wrong with a story being in progress. I think any story is in progress especially stories that are personal ones, its very hard to just stop a story one is close to. As Miguel continues this work it will naturally mature, grow and get better. But for sure this is a very good start.

  50. “as Robert Fisk says, I don’t want to be a passive witness.”

    Thank you, Miguel, for bringing Roober Fisk into this discussion. To my mind he is our time’s most truth-telling and historically-aware journalist. Before I visited my friends Rabih and Sulaima in Beirut, they recommended I read Fisk’s “Pity the Nation.” It helps to experience a new–to you–place and people within the context of their recent history. Robert Fisk gave me that context.

    I also want to commend you for entering so actively into this discussion of your essay. By doing so you have brought it to life and deepened our understanding of why you created it. That enriches the work and its impact…


  51. Thanks David, I will. The issue is a minefield to be sure. Another is “Conflict Photography”!

    Apologies for my not making New York earlier this month but I live in England – also, NYC was minus 6 degrees celsius and I don’t do minus 6 !! Maybe later in the year or even a workshop?

    Please feel free to contact me at mrawcliffe@mac.com if I can assist in any way. Don’t worry, I won’t spam you.

    Best wishes,


  52. Miguel, as Patricia says, thank you for your participation here: you bring great insight. I totally agree with you that this story needs to be told: without the telling and re-telling, antiviral drugs would not be available to as many people as they are today.

    My question about access was not meant to diminish anyone’s efforts. I was wondering if developed world bureaucracy adds another obstacle to be overcome e.g. you finally find someone brave enough to tell their story and you then have to get permission to photograph in a hospital etc.

    I can’t imagine that photographing your subject (or anyone else) on a railway station in India would be a problem whereas taking a photograph at NYC Grand Central Station; especially using a tripod, is (I believe) a big no-no without a license. These are the kind of issues I am referring to.

    Best wishes (and where is Panos?),


  53. One of the things that makes it very hard to photograph a story like this is the social stigma. i had met families who travelled to hospitals/clinics outside their state as they were afraid that someone would know them if they went to a clicic near to their town. as it happens, other people from their village who were also HIV+ were thinking the same thing and were going to hospitals outside their state and found themselves in the same hospital as their neighbors.
    most people are are afraid to talk or be photographed as they think that people will ‘talk’ and the whole community will find out or their extended family will find out. couples don’t even tell their own parents that they are HIV+.

    clinics/hospices don’t really like to photographers in general because it’s happened that the photo has ended up in the local newspaper and doctors, social workers don’t want to break the patients trust. people go to these clinics because it offers them some level of privacy, some safety from others finding out and if they feel that having a photographer there is going to break that trust, then people wont even go to those clinics for treatment.

    just some of my thoughts after reading a few of the above posts.


  54. MIKE R…

    you are thoughtful and articulate….i will try to make good use of you on BURN…soonest i will come up with a way for the readers here to participate in article writing as well as shooting…awhile back in my old blog we did discuss conflict photography, but it is always a good subject to bring up again since we have many new readers….it does definitely tie in with access in developing cultures and the rights of photographers to do what they do and the equal human rights of the subjects they photograph…

    we are also going to have a series of weekend workshops in New York…in the spring when it warms up a bit…let’s stay in touch with each other on this…

    cheers, david

  55. Thank you Srinivas for your comments here. As David has already said, your work is very strong; I am most impressed by its quality and range.

    Yes, access is the key and it’s never easy. Building a rapport with trust on both sides is crucial. A Master of access must be Eugene Richards: how he manages to enter secret worlds such as drug abuse and knife-and-gun crime with such depth and sensitivity is amazing. And he gets to photograph inside the hospital!

    David, how would you describe his work? Straight PJ but good straight PJ? I’m not demeaning anyone’s work here; it’s a term that David has used before and I’m just curious.

    Best to all,


  56. Hey Mike, I understood your point and in no way I felt you were trying to diminishing someone :)
    but sometimes things don’t work like you’re thinking, my first series of portraits on this work was done in a public hospital with great collaboration from all the medical staff. But yes, I have experienced more than once having no license to shoot in stated owned facilities.
    And then in Chad I had real problems shooting, not only because of security issues, but also because of the condition of the subjects. They generally felt they were being exploited and used, so, we can have problems everywhere…
    Patricia, I thank you all very much for the discussion, it’s very important for me.
    best, miguel

  57. Fascinating Miguel; thanks for the insight.

    It really should not come as a surprise that the same problems exist in developing and developed places: after all, we are all Human Beings and as such display the same hopes, fears and contradictions. In my opinion the key factors to access are empathy with your subject, time, that they can trust you, and a recognition by both parties of your common humanity. When this is in place, then you can photograph.

    When we see some of the outstanding, milestone, photographic essays we may well wonder how the photographer got so close and so intimate with his or her subjects. The answer probably is, with great difficulty and at considerable cost to his or herself and family in terms of being apart and of experiencing the trauma that accompanies some essays. The reader can turn the page but the photographer must witness first-hand.

    Good light Miguel,


  58. Hello Miguel,

    I like very much your work, your portraits are very respectful, I feel quite their sadness and pain even if I do not see them… I did not know that the portugual was so touched by the disease…

    all the best, audrey

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  61. Obrigado Miguel,

    28 jan. Hoje é o aniversário de meu irmão. Ele passou quatro anos atrás e eu posso ver sua cara forte no seu glorioso trabalho. Estou trabalhando em um projeto semelhante ao seu focalizando os inquilinos de um hospício onde passou seus últimos dias. Eu aprendi muito durante os meus últimos seis meses cuidando do meu irmão. Seu trabalho me ensinou muito mais.


    Tim Ripley

  62. Tim, não tenho palavras… lamento o que se passou com o teu irmão. Respeito imenso que te consigas entregar a tal projecto, deve ser algo muito difícil. Gostava imenso de poder ver essas fotografias.
    grande abraço, Miguel

  63. José Gonçalves

    Parabéns Miguel. Grande trabalho,ou neste caso grandes trabalhos, já que fui ao teu site. Como fotografo profissional, tiro-te o chapéu. Imagens fortes, com ou sem sharpen, o que é que isso interessa ? Elas vivem da sua força, o resto é para técnicos e discussões de mesa, sobre megapixeis e afins.
    Parabéns mais uma vez.

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