Spanning 50 years, Rosalind Solomon’s work explores people and places around the world. In Part 1, the interview began with Solomon and Visual AIDS programs manager Ted Kerr walking through her exhibition "Portraits in the Time of AIDS,1988" at Bruce Silverstein Gallery, on view until August 2nd. In Part 2, Solomon and Kerr are sitting in a Chelsea coffee shop discussing the difference in how the exhibition was received in 1988 compared to now, why she thought it was important to show the work again, and what it is to be a person not living with HIV within the AIDS movement.

Ted Kerr: I want to get back to something, the New Museum show, the NY Historical Society exhibition, I,You, We at the Whitney, our Visual AIDS exhibitions this summer, and films like United in Anger and How To Survive A Plague are looking back at 20 years ago, and in some cases specifically at HIV/AIDS at that time. I wonder if you have any idea of why we are looking back?

Rosalind Solomon: Maybe because it is history. That is why the New York Historical Society is doing their work.

TK: That is where I disagree with them. It is not history.

RS: That is another thing. You reminded me about why I wanted to mount the exhibition again. Young people still need to be aware and careful. I wanted my grandson to see the catalog. Just because there is medication does not mean you want to contract the disease.

TK: Interesting. People want to pass down the info. There was this important moment in time, it is ongoing and we don’t want it to get worse.

RS: I think that is it. I want people to be aware. It is why it was so disappointing to me that the exhibition travelled only briefly in 1988.

TK: Why do you think it did not travel?

RS: People didn’t want to look at the work. Perhaps people are more willing to look at it now. Nobody now has asked me how could you have done this? As far as I know, no one has responded negatively in the way it happened in 1988. What is acceptable in the art world has changed.

TK: I think that is great that you have not encountered any negativity but I think that speaks to the apathy. 25 years ago, a lot was at stake and people’s visceral reactions meant they were in the conversation. People who are not offended now means to me that they are not engaged. I have a friend who while looking at the exhibition would forget momentarily that the exhibition was about AIDS. He viewed the work as being about capitalism, America, family. Once he remembered, the work would take on new meaning. He became obsessed with seeing how the specific works were about HIV. I wonder how the subjects, people with jobs, complex identities, families and interests, felt when approached as people living with HIV first and foremost?

RS: Well my experience was that anyone who allowed me to photograph them appreciated what I was doing. They did not expect to live. This made me want to keep going with the project. Michael, the man with his mother on the porch, told me to stop photographing people with AIDS after the show. He said it would drive me crazy. He was right – I did want to stop. I could not stay immersed in it. I didn’t want it to become my life.

TK: And it wasn’t your reality.

RS: It wasn’t.

TK: And it is good to respect that. This is what I hope to be learning - that if it isn’t your reality, you have to get out of the way.

RS: You are great. Are you an artist?

TK: Sure. I make funny little postcards that also need context. Let’s get back to the mounting of the show. So you and Liam had lots of discussions…

RS: Yeah we did, and you may think this is horrible—it was really hard for me to revisit it. It was hard for me to get into it again, the emotional part of it. I have had other parts of my life that have been emotional and I just put those parts away. I actually had some small proofs and I sent Liam the ones I liked, that I thought would be appropriate, and I left it…

TK: You let Liam choose which shots for the current exhibition?

RS: Yes.

TK: Of the 70 how many are in the show now?

RS: 26

TK: Were you okay with his choices?

RS: Yes. I like all my pictures. There was nothing I wouldn’t be happy with. I was worried he wouldn’t put in some of the difficult ones, but he did. I sent him a little more than 26 of my selects.

TK: What was your reasoning behind letting him choose?

RS: Bruce Silverstein doesn’t like his artists to give him a package. I found out that he and Liam sometimes see the things that I may have missed. I sent a selection of photographs from which the show was drawn. If there was anything in the selection and hanging that I wanted to change then we would have had that conversation.

TK: Did you have any realizations from the project?

RS: I learned more about gay people. In regards to the show, I was criticized for expressing interest in gay life! I was married to a man from Tennessee and lived there for 25 years - no one I knew talked about being gay. Those who were gay were closeted. In 1984 I moved into my loft and settled in New York.

TK: Wait, the criticism came from straight people or gay people?

RS: Oh, I can’t be sure. I was criticized all around. I think that criticism, however, came from a lot of gay people.

TK: I guess what is interesting is that it’s said that AIDS made many gay people come out of the closet. So it is interesting that you had the experience on the other side. But also, in speaking about impact, I think you spoke to this earlier but I would like to hear more. You said after the exhibition you didn’t know what to do next, and you went away longer than you ever had before.

RS: When I was in South Africa, I developed a horrible rash on my face that would not go away. It turned out to be shingles.

TK: So without conflating the experience of having HIV in your body, for at least two years you had the experience of having HIV. You had your support system taken away, you didn’t know what they future held and your friends shunned you.

RS: I think that is a bit exaggerated—my friends did not shun me. I think I have been lucky to live as long as I have. A lot in my life has changed. Here I am in my 80s. If I had died earlier I would not have had the gratification that I have experienced the last few years. I know not everyone has this opportunity.