The photographer’s view: AIDS posters

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By | From the Collections

 An embracing Asian couple sheltering from the rain beneath Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images No.L0052060.

An embracing Asian couple sheltering from the rain beneath.
     Wellcome Images No.L0052060.

All 3,000 AIDS posters held in the Wellcome Library’s AIDS poster collection have now been digitised, and are gradually going up online on Wellcome Images as they are catalogued, and as the Library’s rights-clearance procedure is carried out.

Photographing the collection has been an enlightening experience. Throughout the process I was particularly struck by the variety of ways in which different countries chose to approach their AIDS awareness campaigns and how they tailored the content to appeal to different social groups.
The photography itself was relatively straightforward, with the greatest challenge being the organisation of varying sizes of posters into efficient workflow batches, as sizes ranged from 21cm to over 2.5 metres. The type of media upon which the posters were printed also kept me on my toes, from highly reflective gloss finishes to almost rice paper-thin substrates, each requiring slightly different techniques.
From the perspective of a photographer the Wellcome’s AIDS poster collection, to me, represents a truly valuable resource as a means of tracking graphic design and photographic trends over the past three decades across many different countries and many different cultures. What makes it so interesting in this respect is that ultimately they were all working to the same brief – that of combating the spread of AIDS.
Author: Ben Gilbert
Image: Advertisement for The Naz Project to support Asian communities with AIDS/HIV. Wellcome Library ref: 666554i.
Christy Henshaw

Christy Henshaw

Christy Henshaw manages digitisation at the Wellcome Library. @Chenshaw. Linkedin

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3 comments on The photographer’s view: AIDS posters
  • zercath


    People living with HIV may feel and look completely well but their immune systems may nevertheless be damaged. It is important to remember that once someone is infected with HIV they can pass the virus on immediately, even if they feel healthy.

    HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. If a person infected with aids complications does not take effective antiretroviral treatment, over time HIV will weaken their immune system, which will make them much more vulnerable to opportunistic infections.

  • peter


    great site

  • combat aids


    Anyone can become infected with HIV, and so promoting widespread awareness of HIV through basic HIV and AIDS education is vital for preventing all forms of HIV transmission. Specific programmes can target key groups who have been particularly affected by a country’s epidemic, for example children, women, men who have sex with men, injecting drug users and sex workers. Older people are also a group who require prevention measures, as in some countries an increasing number of new infections are occurring among those aged over 50.3

    HIV prevention needs to reach both people who are at risk of HIV infection and those who are already infected:

    * People who do not have HIV need interventions that will enable them to protect themselves from becoming infected.
    * People who are already living with HIV need knowledge and support to protect their own health and to ensure that they don’t transmit HIV to others – known as “positive prevention”. Positive prevention has become increasingly important as improvements in treatment have led to a rise in the number of people living with HIV.

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