Ann P Meredith, "Eleana y Rosa, at the Ellipse at the White House, Washington, DC," October, 1988, Archival digital print

For LOVE POSITIVE WOMEN, Visual AIDS interviewed photographer Ann P. Meredith, whose moving black and white portraits shine light on the lives of women living with HIV and were among the first images to picture this undersung population in the ongoing fight against HIV/AIDS. Meredith's pictures from the late 1980s were shown at the New Museum in 1989 in an exhibition curated by Marcia Tucker, Until That Last Breath! The Global Face of Women with HIV/AIDS.

Curator Lowery S. Sims wrote of Meredith's work, "Ann P. Meredith is exceptionally talented and her work in particular has had a great impact on the world at large as she has engaged some of the most urgent and at times overlooked situations in our society. Her documentary on women who suffered with AIDS was instrumental in focusing our attention for the first time on this particular segment of the AIDS pandemic." Here, Meredith discusses her inspiration and process for the landmark project.

Visual AIDS: You were one of the first artists to photograph and videotape personal interviews with women impacted by the AIDS crisis. What inspired your interest in women and their relationship to HIV at the time?

Ann Meredith: In 1987 I was living and working in Berkeley/SF Bay area and I very much wanted to do something in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Being self employed, I did not have cash to give nor time to volunteer - I had already been documenting LGBTQ/Women's culture globally for 17 years...My Life's Work....'I Am Witness' I heard a voice mail recording on The Eye Gallery machine about a workshop on AIDS for photographers... I went to the meeting and realized immediately that no one - classically - was helping HIV+ WOMEN tell their stories!!! So with all my work now of 47 years plus I have been guided to the next 'right' project...My goal and vision have always been to be of service with my Art to help give a compassionate and realistic face and voice to those people and cultures who have been injured persecuted marginalized underexposed overlooked ignored and therefore underserved. AS PER USUAL...Women continue to be 'The Hidden Population' of the AIDS Pandemic!

VA: What was at stake in representing women living with HIV during the late 1980s / early 1990s?

AM: LIFE & DEATH was a stake!!! and The RISK was theirs!!! Even though it was illegal to take away someone's children when and IF the woman came out as Positive...In SF Bay Area they WERE taking away the children - It was devastating torturous...Women if they came to a ward and came out as Positive to get HELP - they lost their children...their families...It was heartbreaking ...their hearts were being broken...

At this time...people were petrified and - did not want to TOUCH - or BE around people with HIV/AIDS. People's partners lovers parents LEFT them - dropped them completely so many of the Women were homeless as well...

I spent 2 plus hours every Thursday at the FIRST WOMENS SUPPORT GROUP in the country at SF AIDS FOUNDATION RUN by Catherine and Nancy and simply listened and photographed and listened to these women tell their stories and express their feelings...

VA: Many of your images were taken in Washington DC. What were the politics at play with photographing women living with HIV in the nation's capital?

AM: MASSIVE POLITICS....MASSIVE DEMONSTRATION OF WE ARE HERE AND WE ARE NOT GOING AWAY WE ARE SICK AND WE NEED YOUR HELP ....

The DC shots were in the early 90's at the Rally and AIDS Quilt at the Ellipse in front of the White House.

I BELIEVE it was a MAJOR POLITICAL ACT for Everyone especially the people with AIDS (PWAS) to GO to the SCENE OF THE CRIME...* - Just like I went to Film and Protest at the Inauguration Parade in DC last week...

I believe with ALL MY HEART that IF THEY DON'T SEE US - WE DON'T COUNT...

WE MUST BE SEEN TO BE HEARD AND BE HELPED...PWAS MUST BE SEEN AND HEARD OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN and...WHERE PEOPLE CAN SEE THEM AND SEE THEY ARE JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE...LOOK THE SAME HAVE FAMILIES CHILDREN PARTNERS...want the best for everyone.

With ALL OF US BEING THERE in Plain Sight in Front of ALL The Stone Memorials and The President...

They could NOT ignore and dismiss us and the PWAS....!

VA: Where were your images displayed and how were they received by both the general public and the sitters in the portraits?

AM: BREATH Traveled extensively around the US in museums galleries community locations health museums schools everywhere - I was invited brought to colleges universities schools homes businesses organizations everywhere to present images and talk about Women and HIV/AIDS...

There was Tremendous interest and NEED for people to hear about WOMEN.

-Premiered at South of Market Gallery in San Francisco - 15500 people at opening - standing room only and all the PWAS came!

-Premiered in New York in Soho - with the late and Wonderful Marcia Tucker Director of the New Museum of Contemporary Art

VA: What sort of conversations and stories came from your process of photographing these women?

AM: People were petrified at the IDEA OF - THE REALITY OF ....

THEIR MOTHERS DAUGHTERS NIECES AUNTS GRANDMOTHERS & WIVES AND LOVERS ie GIRLS!!!

contracting let alone HAVING HIV or AIDS...

Conversations and stories..? Profuse

EVERYWHERE I and the exhibition went...

People lined up to talk with me share their story or/and the story of their loved ones...

Crying saying thank you for SHOWING WOMEN...all types of women

VA: Images from Until That Last Breath! The Global Face of Women with HIV/AIDS were featured prominently in the recent exhibition A Deeper Dive! at the Leslie Lohman Museum. Any takeaways from seeing these works on display again in 2016?

AM: I was beyond deeply honored to be there and have my work in the exhibition and see that it STILL 30 years later!!! serves as a tool of awareness and honoring Women with HIV/AIDS!!

I was deeply moved by people's response to my work and humbled by their comments

I did not know about your LOVE POSITIVE WOMEN

I simply know that I love positive women and believe they are courageous...brave and pioneers!

Lesbian Queer Ann P Meredith is an internationally acclaimed artist, writer, director, producer, performance/installation artist, playwright, arts educator/adjunct professor and activist who founded and directs Swordfish Productions. Since 1970 Ann and Swordfish in collaboration with numerous community partners have continued to help to give a realistic and compassionate face and voice to those people and cultures who have been persecuted, injured, marginalized, under-recognized and therefore under-served. Ann's work is in the Smithsonian, The Library of Congress, The New York and San Francisco Public Libraries and many museums, institutions and private collections. Ann's full career body of work is housed in The Schlesinger Library on the History of Women at Harvard University. Her important work is available for exhibition and purchase.