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.