After The Anniversary: Raising Awareness of HIV in Scotland

We speak to Edo Zollo and Criz McCormick about photography exhibition Stand Tall, Get Snapped

Feature by Ana Hine | 10 Jun 2013
  • Samantha

London based artist Edo Zollo’s photography exhibition Stand Tall, Get Snapped arrives in Glasgow on 14 June. This collection of portraits of people living with HIV in the UK was inspired by the 30th anniversary of the death of Terrence Higgins – one of the first people to die of AIDS here – and events in Zollo’s own personal life. We talked to Edo himself and Criz McCormick from Gay Men’s Health about the exhibition

What inspired the project?
Edo Zollo: The project was inspired by me taking PEP after I had unprotected sex with a HIV partner.

One thing that struck me about the project was how recently many of the people you feature in your photographs were diagnosed with HIV. Can you say a little about that?
EZ: With this project I wanted to show to the public that HIV is still very present, it’s happening right now and it is not concentrated only within the LGBT community. In this project you will find everyone: white, non-white, gay, non-gay, young, old, male and female.

Can you (very) briefly explain what HIV is and what affect it has had, culturally and historically, on the LGBT community?
Cris McCormick: HIV is a virus that can be transmitted sexually and has disproportionately affected gay and bisexual men in Scotland. The initial responses to it were from the gay communities alone. It resulted in a huge cultural shift in gay and bisexual men using condoms when they had never used them before. It had the effect of bringing communities together to help fight for funding to help prevent transmission and to support those living with HIV. It has shaped the political landscape we see today.

Why is it important to mark the 30 year anniversary of the HIV/AIDS
epidemic in the Scotland?
CMcC: The advances we have seen in gay rights over the years have been as a result of the politics of those in the community who have gone before us. The epidemic had the effect of politicising and mobilising a community. It is important to remember where we came from, so we can learn.

Do you think enough attention has been paid to the anniversary?
CMcC: Whilst it is important to remember and learn, it is also important to move forward. There is so much work in health happening now across Scotland with organisations such as Gay Men’s Health. These include testing clinics, volunteers speaking to men in bars and clubs, health magazines such as GM8, groups and counselling services. It is great that the attention is on these achievements which have come about due to a lot of hard work over the years.

How can the lives of those living with HIV in Scotland be made easier? Do
you think enough support is being given?
CMcC: HIV is now a manageable disease. People living with HIV can and do live normal lives, working in all walks of life. It can therefore be difficult to know what support is needed. GMH works with other organisations in asking men living with HIV their needs and running workshops and residential courses to ensure proper support is required. GMH also provides counselling across Scotland for men living with HIV.

Tell me about how stigma affects those living with HIV. How much of a difference can art projects like this make to reduce the stigma surrounding a positive HIV diagnosis?
CMcC: Stigma is the big issue now for those living with HIV. It can be said that is a much greater issue now than health. Stigma can take many forms and it can only be dealt with by ordinary people challenging prejudice and misinformation. This challenging and informing can take many forms and an art project like this highlights some of the problems and some of the delights as well in an exciting and challenging way.

Do you think the HIV/AIDS epidemic has changed the way we think about
sexual health, sexual identity, and sexual stigma?
CMcC: It definitely has. We are more scared of sex than we used to be. It can be seen as something associated with disease and ill health. In fact organisations like Gay Men’s Health spend a lot of their time helping people understand that a good sex life can do wonders for mental health and wellbeing.

Note: PEP - Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEPSE ‘Post Exposure Prophylaxis after Sexual Exposure’ in Scotland) - is a treatment which may prevent a person exposed to HIV from contracting it. It must be administered within 72 hours of the exposure and is more effective the sooner it is taken. It has a number of extreme and unpleasant side effects including nausea and diarhoea and the course of medication and post-treatment care takes a number of months. Sexual health clinics, HIV clinics and A&E departments can provide it, but not GPs and health professionals who don’t work in the field of sexual health may not be aware of the treatment. Although PEP is free a person must be deemed at a certain level of risk before it is given to them, since the side effects are so debilitating.

Stand Tall, Get Snapped will be open from 14 Jun - 13 Jul at The Virginia Gallery, Virginia Street, Glasgow. Free.