Talk should always be initiated; but action should also always be taken.
This, says Jethro Cuenca Patalinghug, is what’s important when it comes to facing HIV and AIDS. And this, he stresses, is what the push should be.
This is the rationale why, prior to the end of 2010, Patalinghug partnered with celebrity cum conceptual photographer Niccolo Cosme’s Project Headshot Clinic (HSC) in an effort to make people act against HIV and AIDS. The cliché holds true, after all, that words remain useless sans accompanying actions.
HSC is, in a gist, Cosme’s The Lighthouse Studio’s attempt to give photography with a twist – i.e. more than taking photographs for its sake, the act (therefore the process) is given a bigger purpose through advocacies. Since 2007, HSC has been helping increase the awareness on various issues, e.g. drum up support for Original Pilipino Music (OPM) and, yes, HIV and AIDS.
Patalinghug is, of course, he who started Take the Test (TTT), a campaign to get people, particularly men who have sex with men (MSM), to have themselves tested for HIV and AIDS. TTT, though, does not only provide information, education and communication (IEC) materials, but – through partnerships with other advocacy groups – actually brings the testing to those willing to have them.
“Of course I felt anxious.”
That (the anxiety), admitted Cosme frankly, was undeniable; an inevitable accompaniment of the act. Even bearing the knowledge that one made sure he/she took every available precaution not to be exposed to HIV infection, one still feels anxious when the time comes for HIV testing. So when Cosme first took a HIV antibody test, anxiety struck.
“Unnecessary, yes; but it happens.”
Cosme is first to say, though, that much of the anxiety stems from the lack of knowledge regarding HIV. There’s still that doom that continues to be associated with it, like getting infected with it spells the end of everything, and none would like to be associated in whatever way with that.
So in 2007, when friend Wanggo Gallaga – famed Filipino director Peque Gallaga’s son who tested HIV positive sometime in the same year – approached Cosme to partner in making use of art (in this case, his photography) to create a much-needed buzz about HIV and AIDS in the Philippines, what was established was a way to help give HIV a face.
And not just of those infected (people with HIV or AIDS or PHAs), but also those affected (people living with HIV or AIDS or PLWHAs); which, in actuality, “is all of us,” Cosme says.
And with HSC, this is what became the push: to make HIV and AIDS everyone’s issue. Simply, this was done through photography, i.e. celebrities willing to be openly associated with the fight against HIV and AIDS were photographed, with their photographs spread virtually (the Net, of course) and, well, physically (exhibits were held where possible).
RESPONSES IN MOTION
Themed AWARE, the first HSC had “over 100 participants,” Cosme recalls. It was a success particularly “on a personal level – as an artist, it was a personal project of awareness not just for others, but (even) for myself.” For Cosme, “the project was education itself.”
Gallaga was among those who participated, of course; his face among those photographed, and then enclosed in a red box, a la Time Magazine.
Building on the success, the following year’s effort was themed MOVE. “It was, at the very basic, an attempt to scare people to move,” Cosme says.
Seemingly decapitating the heads of people – celebrities still included – was the approach used, evocative of Carol Lewis’ Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland, or at least Tim Burton’s version of it. Just under 200 people participated in the photoshoot.
In its third year, the campaign took a more urgent turn through ACT.
This is “no longer just about campaigning (for campaigning’s sake), but an act (to make people act),” Patalinghug says.
Which is where the partnership with TTT entered the picture.
The challenges remain somewhat similar, says Cosme; foremost, obviously, is “the funding. But we (never) wanted this (lack) to stop us.” What is good about the HC, though, is “it makes people come together; to collaborate.”
Among others, the AIDS Society of the Philippines and the Department of Health (DOH) participated by providing voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) to whoever’s interested during the duration of the campaign; and UNAIDS, a key backer of the effort since it existed.
Cosme says he’d like to think the effort is making a “domino effect” – how the effort is looking not just at creating a wave of photographs, but also a wave of awareness and sparks of commitment. And with this, photographs prove that they can indeed speak louder than words.