Pages from And so it happened, the book
Maria, undetectable, 50, case manager, and Brandon, undetectable, 29, flight attendant.

In 2017, photographer Francesco Di Benedetto started working on, And So It Happened. He saw it as a photographic project to document a crucial moment in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The US Centre for Disease Control had just announced that HIV-positive people on effective antiretroviral treatment could not pass on the virus. An undetectable viral load meant untransmittable, in other words. Significant results were also being made in preventive medicine at the time with the introduction of PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), a daily pill to avoid contracting the HIV virus.

While these advancements brought about great excitement in communities traditionally most affected by HIV/AIDS, public attitudes had not kept pace, and HIV stigma endures. The same intransigence could be said for politics and institutions. In some countries, the cost of PrEP is covered by insurances or National Healthcare Systems, but in most places, this is not yet the case.

And So It Happened

From these thoughts came a series of portraits and interviews collectively entitled And So It Happened. The title questioned one of the most common prejudices against HIV-positive people. Namely, the idea that this disease is a kind of punishment for morally reprehensible behaviours. Francesco’s title considered instead that something happened as a starting point for a broader and more articulate discussion.

His project highlighted stories of people living with HIV and also people on PrEP. Openness is key to tolerance, he felt, and no one should have to hide – whatever their status. The main goal was to give visibility to these stories. Speaking openly about the issues and sharing real-life experiences to inspire, fight stigma, and effectively help keep the discussion alive.

Some voices from And So It Happened

The uniqueness of And so It Happened resides in its message. The talk surrounding HIV/AIDS usually focuses on people’s difficulties and tragedies, but as one of my subjects said: “Normalizing this condition makes a huge difference. If we don’t end the stigma, we can’t end this epidemic.” Or, in the words of another subject: ”The most interesting thing about PrEP is the fact that it allows people who are HIV-negative to take concrete action to protect themselves.”

It seemed the burden, and sole responsibility for containing the spread of HIV has fallen on those of us living with the virus for too long. We have been viewed as little more than vectors of disease and a problem that must be managed. Clearly, with 50,000 new infections each year in the US, this approach has not worked. PrEP changes that.” This is the kind of messages we need now and what my project is about.

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