In 2007, photographer Niccolo Cosme did a “headshot clinic” campaign called “One World” that – he recalled – “aimed to unite people online.” Even then, he recognized that it was “quite a vague campaign”; though perhaps it was also because “I was just starting to explore things then.” “One World” brought Niccolo to Vietnam, Macau and Cambodia.
A year later, Niccolo eventually started the now popular (and now annually held) “headshot clinic” campaigns for HIV. This came about after Niccolo completely realized that “art speaks many languages; it can be both disruptive and aspirational. I believe that art is a great medium to reach out to people, and it is something that I enjoy doing.”
Specifically pertaining to HIV, Niccolo said acknowledges that behavior change is something that does not happen over night. “It does take a while; sometimes, a long while,” he said. But “visual images are important in the development of one’s behavior.”
On a more personal note, “as a kid, I was surrounded by art, and my fascination towards it grew and grew. Culture, values, the ability to dream, creativity, pain, suffering… they are all found in visual art. Without having to explain, a viewer can inspect and digest the energies embedded in a visual art,” Niccolo said. “In the context of HIV, or sexuality, art can play a huge role in normalizing discussion on certain topics that Filipinos may most probably find hesitant to talk about.”
Niccolo, of course, is somewhat lucky to have been exposed to art very early. He was only seven years old when he recalled starting photography, asking is father to buy him a camera as a gift for his seventh birthday. “He gave me an instamatic black camera with a red shutter button,” he recalled with a smile. “He also taught me how to use manual SLR camera at a young age, and (inspired me to take) formal classes in college.”
But Niccolo is also familiar of human pain and suffering, both now serving as inspiration for his works. “I draw my inspiration from pain and suffering. I always have. Real life stories fuels my spirit,” he said, adding that “may it be a good story or sad, I believe that beauty can be drawn out in almost anything.”
Niccolo recognizes that artists may encounter challenges when promoting advocacy issues. In his case in particular, Christians – particularly fundamentalists – may have adverse reactions in his pieces, with some of them deemed to sexy (if not sexual). But Niccolo brushes this aside. “I don’t see this as an issue at all,” h said, particularly since touching nerves goes with the territory since “I think all artist’s body of works will always have something to say about something.” In the end, “you see, disruption is inevitable, it is something we have to consider and face.”
And in Niccolo’s case, this disruption is what’s bringing attention to HIV as a social issue.
For more information on Niccolo Cosme and his works, visit www.niccolo-cosme.com.