In the early 1990s, photographer Jeannie O'Connor was invited to be a guest artist at four Bay Area AIDS centers, including the Center for AIDS Services in Oakland, the Rest Stop and Shanti House centers on Market Street in San Francisco, and the Unity Church in Richmond.. She worked with HIV-positive clients and their families to take self-portraits, for many of them final, with a 4x5 camera using Polaroid film. O'Connor handed the pneumatic shutter-release bulb to the sitters, so they could choose the timing and the pose. The portrait sitters kept the instantly available prints while O'Connor kept the negatives. 365 negatives have now become an important visual testament to the diversity of lives lost.
KunstWorks is pleased to announce that O’Connor’s negatives, contact sheets, proof prints, and Polaroid prints from the AIDS Self-Portraits Collection (1989-1995) were recently included in the collection of the San Francisco Public Library. They will be made available to the public and a portion will become digitally available online through the Library’s AIDS archives digitization grant, “The San Francisco Bay Area’s Response to the AIDS Epidemic: Digitizing, Reuniting, and Providing Universal Access to Historical AIDS Records.” Learn about the Bay Area’s major AIDS archives digitization project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Jeannie O'Connor's work has been shown internationally and was awarded the SECA award by SFMOMA and the Phelan award in Photography. She taught art and photography at California College of the Arts, the San Francisco Art Institute, and Berkeley City College.
O'Connor graduated from UC Berkeley in 1969 with a master's degree in painting. Throughout her career, she has taken portraits, often combining photographic images with paint, pastel, and collage. The 4 x 5 polaroid Type 55 self-portrait process offered a means to work sensitively and responsibly across many situations, including at Creative Growth Art Center and for the California Arts Council AIDS project.