Danny died.

Marquis, who said he wouldn’t, died.

Then John, Rod, Rayne and Greg died. I never saw a man face more pain with more grace than Greg.

Michael, whom I had grown to love, died.

Charles had a passion for life but accepted death.

Patrick died and I miss him.

Baby T. was born in a hospital that she never left.

Most of the people photographed for this story have died. Words are not my gift and I am afraid to use them to describe what these people meant to me and how their lives and deaths have changed me over the past twenty-years.

I talked with Archie. He had been extremely ill and told me he was “letting go.” It was a profound conversation. This man, whom I met only briefly, was sharing with me his decision to die.

But what I have learned from these people is not death, it is the richness of life.

I thought at the beginning that I could know through this experience what it is like to have HIV/AIDS. I cannot. Only those who face what Todd calls “The Dread” can really know, and I suspect it is somewhat different for each of them. I expected to be confronted with great bitterness and anger. I was not. Instead I found dying people more concerned with the effect their illness was having on their loved ones than they were with their own ravaged bodies.

Peter, dying of AIDS, enrolled in graduate school! These were not people content with giving up. They wanted to breathe their last breath with dignity. That, in fact, is all they asked.

I tried over the years to keep up with these brave souls, but over the last few years lost track of everyone. I was afraid they were all gone. Recently I received a call. Doug Lothes, who I photographed in 1987, not only survived, he thrived. Like a ghost coming back into my life he has reminded me once again of all the beautiful, remarkable people I was honored to photograph.

His life is a testament to the hope that the disease will end and that all these deaths have guided us to a healthier and more caring world.


Bloomingdales is donating$75,000 to amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research and will be exhibiting work from my book “Epitaphs for the Living: Words and Images in the Time of AIDS” at their Lenox and Perimeter stores in the men’s department on August 27th through the 30th. I hope you can stop by and see the exhibit. This story is adapted from my introduction to the book, part of which was in a previous Dew post, “Ghost.”

Images, Top: Looking at myself, and realizing how depressed I look, brings a well known poem into my mind: “The world is such a nice place to live in and it is such a pity to leave it.”  Jorg Niendiek,

Bottom: Baby T at Grady Hospital with her hand print beneath. She was born to drug addicted parents who abandoned her. When I asked the doctor what she needed, he responded: “A walk in the park.” She died two weeks later.

Billy Howard

Billy Howard

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

  1. This is one of the most loving books I have seen and read. . How sad a plague to have been witness to. How such a rich tapestry of hope, dignity, compassion, and love can be wrought from such a terrible disease would have before seemed an impossible task, but witness it here. Thank you again Billy for inviting us into a world it is so important for us to see. They are words and images I shall never forget.

  2. Billy, thank you so much for this. In case case it was your words that made me see — thank you. Grace

  3. Billy,
    Your article not only brings out the poignancy of of caring, but also shows how large your heart and spirit is. Many of us have lost loved ones, be they family, friends or spouses to this despicable disease but there is a great dignity in those who are fighting the ‘good fight’ to stay healthy and demonstrate that we all have contributions to make in Life, whether in health or illness. And the valor of all of those suffering from AIDS/HIV is an inspiration to those of us who take Life for granted.
    Sometimes those who suffer make Life an inspiration to make this a better world. Kudos
    to you for this and I look forward to the day when this disease is eradicated and the stigma in some folks’s minds is erased and replaced with the lesson of dignity for all.

  4. Billy- once again you remind us of the hell we have walked through, returning to some light on the other side. Though these struggles are far from over, we are so much more enlightened and further down the road. I am blessed to know both you and Doug and to share in your victories.
    Thanks for your willingness to dig deep and continually dare to shed light!

    Virginia Schenck

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