New Exhibit Reflects on the First Five Years of HIV/AIDS in New York

By Johanna Harvey | June 7, 2013

Photo from the exhibit “The Changing Face of Children with AIDS” entitled Anthony (ca.1990-1992) by Claire Yaffa.

New York Historical Society

Today, the New York Historical Society Museum and Library will display a stunning photo exhibit called AIDS in New York: The First Five Years. Curator Jean Ashton explores the impact of the epidemic on life, public health, medical practices, culture, and politics in New York City and across the nation. Drawing from the archives of the New York Public Library, New York University, and the National Archive of LGBT History, the show will use posters, photographs, and artifacts to tell the story of the early years of AIDS in New York.


To complement the exhibit, the New York Historical Society will also feature a gallery show of 20 black and white photographs of children living with HIV/AIDS taken by noted photographer and social realist Claire Yaffa from her collection, “The Changing Face of Children with AIDS.”

Yaffa worked for years to document an intensely intimate, behind-the-scenes look at medical institutions that treat children with life-threatening illnesses. The Incarnation Children’s Center in the Bronx—an organization that was one of the first to care for orphaned infants born with HIV—provided some of Yaffa’s most visceral subject matter, offering a stirring tribute to those affected by HIV/AIDS. Beginning in 1990, Yaffa visited Incarnation Children’s Center and was permitted to document the lives of these children and adolescents over a ten-year period, creating haunting portraits that capture the pathos and beauty of dozens of HIV’s youngest victims—most of whom did not survive to adulthood—and documenting the extraordinary devotion of the children’s caretakers.

The exhibition will have a special focus on two or three individual children’s stories, and will feature several of Yaffa’s emotionally moving, mid- to large-format, black and white photographs, revealing with clarity and humility the often heartbreaking tales of children affected by HIV and AIDS.

Today, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation is working around the world to treat and prevent pediatric AIDS. Exhibits such as this remind the global health community just how far we have come in the 30 years since the first case of HIV/AIDS was reported as well as how far we still have to go until we will achieve an AIDS-free generation.

The full exhibit will be open from June 7 through September 15, 2013 at the New York Historical Society Museum and Library in New York, New York.

Johanna Harvey is Senior Communications Officer at the Foundation, based in Washington, D.C.