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Shooting for
life: Luna Luis Ortiz

Shooting for
life: Luna Luis Ortiz

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HIV-positive since age 14, this New York photographer reaffirmed his life through his camera. Now he's giving kids at Harvey Milk High School the same opportunity and helping them see the big picture about AIDS.

I was born in the Bronx, N.Y., in 1972. My father was a photographer, and I became fascinated with his work at a young age. I remember when he would ask me to take pictures of the family and I would try to make them pose like old Hollywood starlets. My childhood was pretty perfect. Unfortunately, I was not informed about safe sex, and in 1986 at the age of 14, I became infected with HIV from my first sexual experience.

Many of the young people I came out with in New York City's gay scene in the late '80s now exist only in memory--AIDS took them away from me. Over the years HIV has made me think about how I wanted to be remembered. After graduating from Harvey Milk High School, I decided to embark on a career in photography and the arts.

In 1991 I began to work for QW magazine, where I met David LaChapelle. With David, I learned to go forward and take chances with my creative mind. Determined more than ever to make art, I began to live through photography. Realizing that I was losing many of my friends before they reached adulthood, I began photographing them as they moved through my life. Drag queens, butches, gay boys, butch queens, and hustlers were treated like Hollywood stars through my lens.

After I attended the School of Visual Arts, my work was featured in many publications, including Vibe, Out, and The New York Times.

I now teach black-and-white photography at the Hetrick-Martin Institute, home of the Harvey Milk High School. I tell my students what AIDS was like in the '80s and early '90s. I always tell them to imagine everyone they know dead. It helps them understand a little about life and gives them a clear picture about what they need to do to be positive about life and remain HIV-negative.

I give these kids the opportunity to express themselves with a camera--the same opportunity my father provided me. Some of them don't have a real family, and Hetrick-Martin feels like home. It's amazing what a photograph can reveal to teenagers about themselves. I see kids come in as if they're lost children and watch them bloom into beautiful teenagers filled with joy and life. This is my goal.

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