Nearly two decades since protease inhibitors ended the worst years of the AIDS crisis, a number of recent efforts have reexamined those awful times, ranging from last year’s gripping film How to Survive a Plague to the small but admirable reconsideration of ephemera, curated by Andrew Blackley, currently on view at NYU’s Fales Library. When Rosalind Solomon set out to photograph people with AIDS in 1987 and 1988, a diagnosis was all but a death sentence. Known as an intrepid documentarian, Solomon, now 83, did not flinch. The exhibition’s 25 large, square black-and-white images, culled from a bigger group originally shown at the Grey Art Gallery in 1988, include several typical representations of illness, with obviously stricken men wasting away in hospitals or at home, alone or with family. But less journalistic pictures of everyday moments now resonate even more with the unutterable tragedy of lives led and lost. In one close shot, for instance, two hairy legs, erupted in sores, stand in a garden while a hand reaches down to grasp a fat zucchini.
In another photo, a young man in a straw hat sports activist buttons, presumably at a protest, his face and neck covered in blotchy lesions. Shot in a medium format, it begs comparison to the work of Diane Arbus, with whom Solomon shared a teacher, Lisette Model. Instead of Arbus’s slightly inhuman portraits of extraordinary-looking individuals, however, Solomon gives us absolutely ordinary people caught up in extraordinary eventsÑand looking all the more heartbreakingly human for it.—Joseph R. Wolin