Since the first photographs of gay men’s withered bodies in hospital beds began to circulate in the early 1980s, the relationship between HIV/AIDS and photography has been complex. While those pictures served to raise awareness about a rapidly growing problem, visual representations of the disease’s devastating effects instilled fear in the general population, escalating HIV phobia and stigma.
On the flipside, those early images became a rallying cry to activists, explaining their cause better than simple words ever could.
“That was a time when governments around the world, particularly in the US and Canada, were denying the need for action,” says Daniel Knox, ACT’s director of development. “From my perspective, I think that type of raw, emotional photography really spoke to people and helped to mobilize them to make a difference. Photography evokes so much emotion, and it’s deeply linked to our community’s history, in both positive and negative ways.”
No doubt Snap!’s founders were cognizant of this relationship when they chose photography as the medium for their annual art auction. Now in its 12th year, ACT’s flagship fundraiser regularly rakes in close to $300,000 in support of the organization’s programs.
A team of curators, gallery owners and journalists select artists who donate works in conjunction with the gallery that represents them. The live auction has more than 60 pieces ranging in size from 12” x 16” to 3’ x 6’ and featuring nearly every imaginable subject. Portraits, landscapes and floral arrangements mix with architectural images, collages and abstracts. All works come finished and framed, meaning you can head straight home after the event to nail the chosen image above your couch or toilet the same night.
For those with a lower budget or an interest in budding talent, Snap! also features a silent auction made up of works by lesser-known image-makers. Anyone can submit pics, and a second team of experts pores over those images to select a fresh crop to be made available for purchase.
“It’s a great marriage of artists being able to expose their work to a larger public while at the same time bringing the art community into the fold to learn a bit more about HIV/AIDS,” Knox says. “It’s important to us that our fundraisers do more than just raise money. They’re also about creating awareness of the organization’s larger mission.”
For their ticket price, patrons get the chance to bid on works, as well as access to a rather swank schmoozefest, with plenty of free drinks and DJ Sumation on the decks. As an added bonus, with TD Canada Trust as a sponsor, it means the TD Boys (well known to Toronto Pride-goers) serve double duty as catering staff and auction models. Though they most often appear in lime-green bikini briefs while distributing condoms and water to Church Street crowds, Knox assures me the boys will remain clothed, at least from the waist down.
“About halfway through their shirts come off,” he laughs. “It’s a formal event, but we want it to be fun and sexy, too.”