Sunday, May 03, 2009

Art Space Talk: Michael Drysdale (Part 3)

Sitting in the cold by Michael Drysdale

This is Part 3 of my interview with Michael Drysdale. To return to Part 2 click, HERE

Brian Sherwin: You mentioned to me that you have been diagnosed with HIV. Would you mind discussing how having been diagnosed with HIV has changed your perspective on life?

Michael Drysdale: It was a difficult thing, I don' mind discussing it, I contracted HIV/AIDS while working as a missionary for the Church, in another disaster area, we were trying to save children trapped under a collapsed building, and we were pulling up bits of mangled iron and bricks, you name it, with our bare hands and a lot of blood was flowing on that day, everybody's hands were raw and bleeding, and of course, the HIV virus had freedom to flow.

About six months later I became desperately ill with a streptococcal infection in my lungs and my throat, I was then tested and diagnosed as HIV positive, it was only 4 years later that I progressed to stage 3 (Commonly known as full blown AIDS.) And I have been full blown now for six years.

Back to realizing the implications of being diagnosed HIV+ -- it was a shock, but having done so much work amongst people living with AIDS I had about 10 minutes in which to make a decision, and I decided there and then that I was not going to let this disease get to me, I was and still am determined that I am not going to lie down and die, I will live every day as if it is the last day on earth and I will use every opportunity that I have and every resource to make a positive difference in the lives of others, and that is where I have been for the past ten years, trying to make a difference.

It has not been easy, and I hope that perhaps here I might have a voice to say to everyone out there, "ARV's are not a cure, they only prolong life, do not go out and be reckless, it is no fun living on ARV's, the side effects are awful, be responsible" Ok I'm off my soapbox now. Yes it hasn't been pleasant living on ARV's, I have been on them for 5 years now, my CD4 count has gone up from 119 to 490, and my Viral load has decreased from greater than 500,000 to less than 50.

I suffer the most extreme nausea, sometimes vomiting for 3 hours at a time, even when there is nothing to vomit, I have extreme headaches on a daily basis, I have lost part of the feeling in my left hand, I have terrible temperature variations, these are only side effects but I am alive and I am still contributing to society.

Brothers by Michael Drysdale

BS: How is your experience living with HIV/AIDS reflected in your art?

MD: I have tried very hard to have some sort of conscience in my work, but again I have to try not to be offensive, which is a line so easily crossed, I have been working on a series for the past three years where I have been photographing AIDS patients in the extreme (Near Death) with all the horrors surrounding this awful disease, but as yet I haven't yet decided how far the conscience goes, so perhaps one day I'll release it as an exhibition, but as a celebration to life and the living.

One young woman I photographed, I stayed at her side for 3 days, and she had two small children, but the hospice would not let them near her, so I sat with her and held her hand, and I cried, I cried with her, I cried for her, and I photographed her, as she begged me "Please don't let me die?" the photographs are not offensive, they are exquisite, but my heart is in the photographs so as yet I cannot let them tell a story, maybe one day.
Sunday Lunch by Michael Drysdale

BS: Finally, have you sought any specific form of acclaim for the work you have done as far as your art is concerned and the documentation of your experiences? Or do you see that specific use of your skills as an artist as a selfless contribution? (I should make it clear that Michael agreed to this interview because we at felt it would be a good way to raise awareness about the project he is working on and the plight of the people he is attempting to help.)

MD: Honour means everything to me, so even though I could possibly win a Pulitzer Prize for documenting a disease, the honourable thing to do is to let it lie right now, or maybe forever. To be a photographic artist, I need to invade personal space, and I have to be trusted and respected, and those are two values which can only be earned.

These values are more important to me than selling a photograph, and if I can let values and respect show through in my work then I will have made a difference. Perhaps a very hard balance to achieve, but again the artist, any artist has a voice and an audience, and both must be used wisely, we as artists have an ability to make a difference.

This is the conclusion of my interview with Michael Drysdale. To return to Part 1 of the interview click, HERE

You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page-- Feel free to discuss the interview and the art of Michael Drysdale on the Forum--

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor
Myartspace Blog on Twitter

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