Written By: Ben Cosgrove
In November 1990 LIFE magazine published a photograph of a new valet named David Kirby his body wasted by AIDS, his gaze locked on something beyond this world surrounded by anguished kin members as he took his last breaths. The haunt image of Kirby on his death bed, taken by a journalism scholar named Therese Frare, cursorily became the one photograph most powerfully identified with the HIV/AIDS epidemic that, by then, had seen millions of people infected ( many of them unwittingly ) around the ball .
here, LIFE.com shares the deeply moving report behind that painting, along with Frare ’ s own memories of those harrowing, transformative years .
“ I started grad educate at Ohio University in Athens in January 1990, ” Frare told LIFE.com. “ Right away, I began volunteering at the Pater Noster House, an AIDS hospice in Columbus. In March I started taking photograph there and got to know the staff and one volunteer, in especial, named Peta who were caring for David and the other patients. ”
David Kirby was born and raised in a small town in Ohio. A gay activist in the 1980s, he learned in the late Eighties while he was living in California and estranged from his syndicate that he had contracted HIV. He got in touch with his parents and asked if he could come home ; he wanted, he said, to die with his family around him. The Kirbys welcomed their son back.
Peta, for his contribution, was an extraordinary ( and sometimes inordinately difficult ) character. Born Patrick Church, Peta was “ half-Native american and half-White, ” Frare says, “ a caregiver and a node at Pater Noster, a person who rode the wrinkle between genders and one of the most perplex people I ’ ve ever met. ”
“ On the day David died, I was visiting Peta, ” Frare told LIFE. “ Some of the staff came in to get Peta so he could be with David, and he took me with him. I stayed away David ’ mho room, minding my own business, when David ’ s ma came out and told me that the family wanted me to photograph people saying their concluding adieu. I went in and stood quietly in the corner, scantily moving, watching and photographing the fit. Afterwards I knew, I absolutely knew, that something rightfully incredible had unfolded in that room, veracious in front of me. ”
“ early on, ” Frare says of her meter at Pater Noster House, “ I asked David if he minded me taking pictures, and he said, ‘ That ’ s very well, arsenic long as it ’ s not for personal profit. ’ To this day I don ’ t take any money for the painting. But David was an activist, and he wanted to get the discussion out there about how lay waste to AIDS was to families and communities. honestly, I think he was a batch more in tune with how crucial these photos might become. ”
Frare pauses, and laughs. “ At the time, I was like, Besides, who ’ randomness going to see these pictures, anyhow ? “
By some estimates, a many as one billion people have seen the now-iconic Frare photograph that appeared in LIFE, as it was reproduced in hundreds of newspaper, magazine and television stories all over the earth focusing on the photograph itself and ( increasingly ) on the controversies that surrounded it .
Frare ’ s photograph of David ’ s family comforting him in the hour of his death earned accolades, including a World Press Photo Award, when published in LIFE, but it became positively ill-famed two years late when Benetton used a color version of the photograph in a provocative ad campaign. Individuals and groups ranging from Roman Catholics ( who felt the painting mocked authoritative imagination of Mary cradling jesus after his crucifixion ) to AIDS activists ( angry at what they saw as corporate exploitation of death in regulate to sell T-shirts ) voiced indignation. England ’ s high-profile AIDS charity, the Terrence Higgins Trust, called for a ban of the ad, labeling it nauseating and unethical, while power station fashion magazines like Elle, Vogue and Marie Claire refused to run it. Calling for a boycott of Benetton, London ’ s Sunday Times argued that “ the merely way to stop this fury is to vote with our cash. ”
“ We never had any reservations about allowing Benetton to use Therese ’ s photograph in that ad, ” David Kirby ’ south mother, Kay, told LIFE.com. “ What I objected to was everybody who put their two cents in about how exorbitant they thought it was, when cipher knew anything about us, or about David. My son more or less starved to death at the end, ” she said, bluffly, describing one of the ghastly english effects of the disease. “ We just felt it was time that people saw the truth about AIDS, and if Benetton could help in that campaign, fine. That ad was the last opportunity for people to see David a marker, to show that he was once here, among us. ”
David Kirby passed away in April 1990, at the historic period of 32, not hanker after Frare began shooting at the hospice. But in an odd and ultimately indicative twist, it turned out that she spent much more prison term with Peta, who himself was HIV-positive while caring for David, than she did with David himself. She gained fame for her crushing, feel for word picture of one young man dying of AIDS, but the photograph she made after David Kirby ’ s death revealed an even more complex and compelling narrative .
Frare photographed Peta over the path of two years, until he, besides, died of AIDS in the fall of 1992 .
“ Peta was an incredible person, ” Frare says. All these years late, the affection in her voice was palpable. “ He was dealing with all sorts of dualities in his life he was half-Native american and half-White, a health professional and a client at Pater Noster, a person who rode the line between genders, all of that but he was besides very, very impregnable. ”
As Peta ’ s health deteriorated in early on 1992 as his HIV-positive condition transitioned to AIDS the Kirbys began to care for him, in much the same way that Peta had cared for their son in the concluding months of his life. Peta had comforted David ; spoken to him ; held him ; tried to relieve his pain and loneliness through simple human touch and the Kirbys resolved to do the like for Peta, to be there for him as his forte and his animation faded .
Kay Kirby told LIFE.com that she “ made up my mind when David was dying and Peta was helping to care for him, that when Peta ’ sulfur clock time came and we all knew it would come that we would care for him. There was never any question. We were going to take wish of Peta. That was that .
“ For a while there, ” Kay remembers, “ I took concern of Peta vitamin a often as I could. It was hard, because we couldn ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate yield to be there all the clock time. But Bill would come in on weekends and we did the best we could in the inadequate time we had. ”
Kay describes Peta, as his condition worsened in deep 1991 and 1992, as a “ very unmanageable affected role. He was very clear and vocal music about what he wanted, and when he wanted it. But during all the time we cared for him, I can only recall once when he yelled at me. I yelled right back at him he knew I was not going to let him get away with that sort of demeanor and we went on from there. ”
Bill and Kay Kirby were, in effect, the theater parents for the home where Peta spent his last months .
“ My conserve and I were hurt by the direction David was treated in the small country hospital near our home where he spent time after coming spinal column to Ohio, ” Kay Kirby said. “ even the person who handed out menus refused to let David hold one [ for fear of infection ]. She would read out the meals to him from the doorway. We told ourselves that we would help other people with AIDS avoid all that, and we tried to make certain that Peta never went through it. ”
“ I had worked for newspapers for about 12 years already when I went to grad school, ” Therese Frare says, “ and was very matter to in covering AIDS by the meter I got to Columbus. Of course, it was difficult to find a community of people with HIV and AIDS bequeath to be photographed binding then, but when I was given the all right to take pictures at Pater Noster I knew I was doing something that was significant important to me, at least. I never believed that it would lead to being published in LIFE, or winning awards, or being involved in anything controversial—certainly nothing vitamin a epic as the Benetton controversy. In the conclusion, the visualize of David became the one image that was seen around the worldly concern, but there was thus a lot more that I had tried to document with Peta, and the Kirbys and the other people at Pater Noster. And all of that screen of draw lost, and forget. ”
Lost and forgotten or, at the very least, absolutely overshadowed until LIFE.com contacted Frare, and asked her where the photograph of David Kirby came from .
“ You know, at the time the Benetton ad was running, and the controversy over their use of my video of David was actually raging, I was falling apart, ” Frare says. “ I was falling to pieces. But Bill Kirby told me something I never forgot. He said, ‘ Listen, Therese. Benetton didn ’ triiodothyronine use us, or exploit us. We used them. Because of them, your photograph was seen all over the universe, and that ’ s precisely what David wanted. ’ And I fair held on to that. ”
After the Benetton controversy finally subsided, Therese Frare went on to other oeuvre, other photography, freelancing from Seattle for the New York Times, major magazines and other outlets. While the universe has become more familiar with HIV and AIDS in the intervene years, Frare ’ south photograph went a farseeing way toward dispelling some of the fear and, at times, froward ignorance that had accompanied any citation of the disease. Barb Cordle, volunteer conductor at Pater Noster when David Kirby was there, once said that Frare ’ s celebrated photograph “ has done more to soften people ’ mho hearts on AIDS than any early I have always seen. You can ’ t look at that picture and hate a person with AIDS. You precisely can ’ t. ”
[ See more of Therese Frare ’ second work at FrareDavis.com ]
David Kirby on his deathbed, Ohio, 1990 .
In another of Therese Frare ’ mho photos taken in the final examination moments of David Kirby ’ randomness life, goodbyes were said by his caregiver and friend, Peta ; David ’ s father ; and David ’ second sister, Susan .
Bill Kirby tried to comfort his dying son, David, 1990 .
A nurse at Pater Noster House in Ohio held David Kirby ’ s hands not retentive before he died, spring 1990 .
David Kirby, Ohio, 1990 .
David Kirby ’ second mother, Kay, held a photograph of her son—taken by Ohio photographer Art Smith—before AIDS took its toll .
Peta, a volunteer at Pater Noster House in Ohio, cared for a dying David Kirby, 1990 .
Peta lay on a frame in a home rented by Pater Noster House, 1991. After the ill-famed ad run, Benetton donated money to Pater Noster, some of which was used to furnish the house where Peta and other patients stayed .
Peta on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, July 1991. “ Peta could be a handful at times, ” Therese Frare told LIFE.com, “ but there was a great consider of joy in our relationship. He wasn ’ t like anyone I ’ vitamin d always met. ”
Peta swim in a lake on the Pine Ridge ( Lakota ) amerind Reservation in South Dakota, during a trip home with photographer Therese Frare in July 1991 .
Peta at the Pine Ridge ( Lakota ) indian Reservation in South Dakota, during a trip home with Therese Frare in July 1991 .
Peta in Ohio, 1991 .
Peta in bed at Pater Noster House, 1992 .
setting at Pater Noster House, Ohio, 1991 .
Peta at Pater Noster House, 1992 .
Peta with Bill and Kay Kirby at Pater Noster House, 1992. “ I made up my mind, ” Kay Kirby said, “ when David was dying and Peta was helping to care for him, that when Peta ’ s time came—and we all knew it would come—that we would care for him. There was never any question. We were going to take manage of Peta. That was that. ”
Kay Kirby administered medicine to Peta via an IV, 1992 .
Peta and Bill Kirby shared a silence consequence together in Peta ’ second room, Ohio, 1992 .
Peta in hospice, Columbus, Ohio, 1992.
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Bill and Kay Kirby, 1992 .