dougepitaphssmTwenty-one years ago I photographed an anonymous person with HIV+ for a book I was working on, Epitaphs for the Living: Words and Images in the Time of AIDS.

D. as he referred to himself, wished to remain anonymous, fearing that being identified would cause him to lose his job and his insurance, a loss he could hardly afford. Wishing to be unmasked, he suffered from the fear and ignorance of those who would judge him and chose to cloak his identity in deference to that reality.

Over the course of the next two decades, most of the people, over 70 that I photographed for that book, have died. Many died before the book was published and I went to a succession of memorial services in the years after, trying to keep in touch with the people I had grown close to and grieving as, one by one, I lost them to the horrendous disease.

They were the first to suffer from this plague, some diagnosed with GRID, Gay Related Immune Disorder, before AIDS was even a name, and all before the cocktails that have saved so many lives, were invented.

I have not heard from any of them for the last several years and my fear was they were all gone.

doug_0074post1Recently I received an email from a friend who was meeting a man who said he was photographed by me for a book. It was D.

Miraculously he has survived. And not only survived but thrived. He no longer fears the repercussions of a society that shunned him and has embraced both his life and his diagnosis. We met and I photographed him again.

Anonymous has a name, Doug Lothes. Like a ghost he has come back into my life, reminding me once again of all the beautiful people I was honored to photograph for that project and giving me hope for the amazing resilience of the human spirit.

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Billy Howard

Billy Howard

Billy Howard is a commercial and documentary photographer with an emphasis on education and global health.

6 Comments
  1. Terri Evans

    Your words and photos have made me cry on a rainy Monday. So glad that Doug has thrived and that you were reunited for this splendid photo.

  2. Melinda Ennis

    Billy,
    I still treasure the “Epitaphs” you signed for us 20 years ago. I’m thrilled that “D” survived the plague that claimed so many. Your wonderful book is a testament to that tragedy.

  3. Billy – Thanks for reminding me what a milestone your book was. Very glad to read this follow-up.

  4. Great book, great work and the hope continues. Thanks, Billy, for your coupling of talent and compassion.

  5. What a great next chapter in a wonderful story. How could it have started 21 years ago?! Hope lives. Keep shooting, Billy, those fleeting images live on, speaking to us again and again.

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