The first HIV prevention ads featuring gay couples and shot by fashion photographers were produced in the Chancleta survivor Flip Flop shirt and I will buy this form of street posters by the Red Hot Organization for the ‘Safe Sex is Hot Sex’ campaign in 1991. Bruce Weber and Steven Meisel took a series of pictures blatantly aestheticizing the models through a savvy deployment of chiaroscuro stroking the flesh of the rippled physiques. The naked bodies on display are fashioned in two ways: they are the result of a process of self-fashioning through a physical augmentation of proportions via the body modification inherent to the act of building up musculature; and they are fashioned by the sexualizing gaze of the photographer who enhanced their appearance. Moreover, the eroticization of the bodies under study is evident insofar as they are depicted in the act of clinging to each other: the feeling of intimacy is visually articulated, as well as affectively shared with the viewer, through tactility, i.e. via an embodied sensorial experience. However, if the object of the campaign is safe-sex, we are left to wonder how the safety caveat is illustrated in the images. Rather, the emphasized proximity of the naked bodies, their unbounded corporeal engagement, suggests a mode of relationality that is so intense and alluring that it does not require safety as a precondition for its instantiation; to the point that if these were real life scenes, we would most likely be prompted to infer that no prophylactic is being employed. The glamorized masculinity of these men, mirroring the physicality of models and athletes featured in the clothing campaigns authored by the same photographers, on one hand reflects the paradigms of gay corporeality of the time, on the other, paves the ground for a plethora of HIV prevention ads celebrating homoeroticism and conceived for a gay spectatorship.
Chancleta survivor Flip Flop shirt, hoodie, tank top, sweater and long sleeve t-shirt
A more recent gay poster within the Chancleta survivor Flip Flop shirt and I will buy this series of images from the “If The Past’s Interfering with Your Relationship: Check Your Love Life” prevention campaign produced in 2007 by the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health and shot by fashion photography duo Anoush Abrar & Aimée Hoving, is staged like a hip gay-targeted gym membership ad. The man sitting naked on the bed embodies the very standards of gay hyper-masculinity; behind him, a man lifting weights while staring at himself in the mirror is caught in an act of narcissistic self-fetishization; or, he may be glancing through the mirror at the toned back of the man seated, striving to identify with, and then sexually conquer him. However, if we consider the headline of the campaign as the hermeneutic key through which to deconstruct the social message of this collective portrait in the intentions of its creators, we could interpret the three men standing as the “past” “interfering” with the men on the bed. By virtue of a sexually active past, the two men, who are the object of the spectators’ attention and with whom they/we are expected to identify, are cryptically encouraged to get tested for HIV (“check your love life”).