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A photo that has sadly outlived its subject
December 9, 2010 - Art Smith
Before managing websites for a living I took photos. Thousands of photos. I spent about 15 years as a photographer for The Marietta Times. When you take photos for a living you meet a lot of people. Photos provide a frozen moment in the lives of the subject. Frequently they remember it for a long time. Sometimes the public does as well. Sometimes the photo sadly outlives the subject.
Late in the 1980s I took a photo of David Kirby. Kirby, who was from Stafford, Ohio, came by the newspaper's office for an interview. I photographed him for perhaps 20 minutes while the reporter interviewed him. Kirby had AIDS, he was poorly treated nearly everywhere he went. We did a front-page story about what he was going through.
When the photo was published, David’s mother Kay did what most mothers would do, she cut it out and kept it.
Kirby ended up becoming the face of AIDS, my photo ended up becoming the “before” image.
By early 1990 David Kirby was dying of AIDS. An Ohio University student named Therese Frare photographed his final moments of life.
Her iconic images of Kirby were published in Life magazine later that year. A photo shot by Frare of Kay Kirby holding the newspaper clipping of my photo became part of the photo story published around the world.
Years later I was contacted by CBS about using the photo in a special they did about 100 photos that changed the world. It was Frare’s photo that changed the world, not mine. Mine only became the reference point.
Because of the Internet the photos continue to get discovered. A few months ago someone asked me if I was the photographer of a photo that is now on Life.com. Today my wife called me to asked me if I knew that my photo was on CNN.com.
Little did I know that of all the thousands of photos that I have had publish, of all the fires, accidents, sporting events and other happenings in the Mid-Ohio Valley, that a simple portrait would continue to have an impact twenty years later.
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Kirby's mother holds my image of her son.