The picture is titled "Rogen and Dave." It's a close-up of two men as one bends over to kiss the forehead of the other, who's in bed. There's a text that goes with it:
"November 13, 1992: When I return to his room, to say goodbye, I tell him that I won't shake his hand this time because I realize how much it hurts him. He takes my hand and softly strokes it, while he says it is better to feel a little pain than to miss receiving any affection."
This is one of a series of photographs taken by Jack Radcliffe at a hospice for AIDS patients. Sheila, Rogen, Cory, Boo Boo and the others make an indelible and devastating impression through these images, together with the words on the accompanying labels. Radcliffe is one of five photographers in an exhibit at Maryland Art Place called "Proof Positive," a show that tugs in opposite directions at once.
The subjects of these photographers are HIV-positive; some have developed AIDS and some have not. But according to a statement by curators Connie Imboden and Jose Villarrubia, the exhibit is about living, and is meant to show "there can be a positive outlook to the lives of those affected with HIV."
If that's the point, Jack Radcliffe's work was a curious choice. Taken together, Radcliffe's photos and the nearby series "Throne of Resistance" by Cary Beth Cryor demonstrate the show's dual nature. For Cryor's photographs are of Tom Miller, who has become extremely well-known for his colorful and witty painted furniture.
One is buoyed by the images of Miller and others here who lead productive lives. There is Luanna Clark (in photographs by Mary Kunaniec Skeen), a woman of presence and dignity who has lived with HIV for eight years, and who combines motherhood, college and volunteer work.
The work that best sums up the show is Katherine Kendall's multimedia installation (slides, audio, writing) on Cindy Gibson, 18, who became HIV positive through a blood transfusion and now has AIDS. Gibson's courage inspires, but it's nevertheless heart-rending to learn that, at 18, she has made a will, has nightmares about people chasing her, and writes, "I still don't understand why everybody says that AIDS is God's will."
In Gibson's case, as in others here, the visual images are incomplete by themselves; they need the words -- what these people state about themselves or what we learn about them from labels and the show's booklet.
If we take "positive" not necessarily to mean upbeat but as nTC showing us all an example -- in Cindy Gibson's words, "Think about life -- don't let it slip away" -- then the curators have accomplished their aim with this show. At any rate, it's intensely moving, and you can't ask more than that.
What: "Proof Positive: Five Photographic Interpretations of life with HIV"
Where: Maryland Art Place, 218 W. Saratoga St.
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; through Jan. 15
Call: (410) 962-8565