Journeys Through Darkness
by Alina Oswald
Reviewed by Chip Alfred
To put it simply, Kurt Weston’s story is a writer’s dream. Having endured more than his share of nightmares, Weston, a long-term AIDS survivor and legally blind photographer, is an inspiration to anyone confronted with seemingly insurmountable obstacles to overcome. In a new biography, Alina Oswald deftly takes the reader along on Weston’s path to healing and self-discovery—occasionally winding up in some dark and desperate places. The author paints a meticulously-defined picture of a man courageously facing his demons head-on, surviving and thriving against all odds. Journeys is a befitting tribute to Weston and a testament to the strength of the human spirit.
The book is illustrated with Weston’s photographs, which sometimes reveal more in one snapshot than any words can describe. The titular cover image, Journey Through Darkness, says it all. As a result of AIDS-related CMV retinitis, the photographer is totally blind in one eye and retains only peripheral vision in the other. Comparing his sight to looking at an impressionist painting, he photographed a series of self-portraits through glass sprayed with a foaming glass cleaner. “I would like to be able to wipe away all that cotton that keeps floating in front of my eyes and get a clear view of what I want to see out in the world,” he says. What Oswald wants us to see in this biography is not Weston’s life story from the beginning. Instead, the book follows his adult life starting with his career in photography through two decades of cheating death to his transformation into an award-winning visual artist.
With compassion and a deep level of understanding, Oswald recounts the photographer’s vivid memories of the early days of the “gay cancer”—the fear, the panic, the stigma, and the sadness. When activist organizations like ACT UP took to the streets in protest of the government’s inaction, Weston took his camera and created Anger is an Energy, a photograph he says helped give him hope and the strength to survive. He became a fierce advocate for his own well-being—sometimes resorting to begging medical practitioners for what he wanted. He educated himself on every medication, experimental treatment, alternative therapy and nutrition plan out there. With a support system of AIDS survivors, Weston became a warrior against the virus and its effects. He believed he could do more than just live. He could live a full, productive and meaningful life. “Every time you go back down to just surviving, you can’t really move forward because you only focus on getting to the next day,” Weston shares with the author. “It’s not good for anybody to remain static.”
Weston is the heart and soul of this book, but Oswald describes it as “A Biography of AIDS,” documenting in explicit detail what it’s like living with AIDS and fighting it day to day. A must-read for anyone affected by HIV, Journeys is bound to move you—either to the edge of your seat, waiting for the next shoe to drop; or to your feet, rooting for its hero every step of the way. This story of a man who never gives
up is hopeful, uplifting and empowering.
For more information about Alina Oswald, visit alinaoswald.blogspot.com.
Visit kurtweston.com to see Kurt Weston’s body of work.
Chip Alfred interviewed Kurt Weston for “Photo Op,” A&U’s August, 2011 cover story and for the January 2012 article, “No Show Like Home.”