Kinsey Institute sponsors exhibition and panel on IU alumnus Tom Fox

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: In light of the continued community spread of COVID-19 across the U.S., the exhibit and associated events have been postponed. New scheduling will be announced at a later date.

Wild Horse Running: The Courageous Journey of Tom Fox will be on exhibit at the Untitled Light Gallery in Suite 110 of the Wicks Building, 116 W. Sixth Street, Bloomington, IN. DATES TBA

The panel discussion of Tom Fox and AIDS in the 1980s will be rescheduled.


BLOOMINGTON, Ind -- The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University will sponsor an exhibition of more than 70 photographs documenting IU alumnus Tom Fox’s struggle with and death from AIDS in the late 1980s. In conjunction, a panel will reflect on Fox’s courage and discuss how treatment of and attitudes towards AIDS have changed over time.

Wild Horse Running: The Courageous Journey of Tom Fox will open during the First Friday Gallery Walk on April 3, 5–8 p.m., at the Untitled Light Gallery’s interim location in Suite 110 of the Wicks Building, 116 W. Sixth Street, on the north side of the Courthouse Square. It will run through May 8 and be open during a second Gallery Walk night on Friday, May 1.

The exhibition

Fox’s parents, long-time Bloomington residents Robert and Doris Fox, set the exhibition in motion when they donated a set of more than 230 photographs that Schwarz had given them plus other memorabilia of their son to the Kinsey Institute.

It has been 30 years since the death of Tom Fox, who grew up in Bloomington and graduated from Bloomington High School South and Indiana University. A photograph of him on his death bed, surrounded by his grief-stricken parents and brothers, became the iconic image of the AIDS epidemic. It happened because Fox, who was an advertising account executive at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, invited an AJ&C medical writer and a photojournalist to document his life as “a person living with AIDS.”  Fox wanted to turn his personal struggle into a positive experience that would educate readers about the devastating disease.

The exhibition, which tells the story of how Fox faced his illness and death with humor, courage and a love for life, is an inspiring instance of the human condition. Notwithstanding the impact of the death-bed scene, the more interesting photographs show Fox interacting with family and friends, clowning for laughs, bonding with his dogs — in short, typical human behaviors in which everybody engages. 

Schwarz’s photographs also document the harsh side of Fox’s experience, taking the viewer into intimate moments rarely encountered outside one’s immediate family. We see him wincing as a nurse draws blood, shopping for a casket with a friend, worrying over how to pay a stack of mounting medical bills, and struggling to suck oxygen through an inhaler. We see his skin covered with Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions and eavesdrop on moments when he is lost in introspection. As his physical presence diminishes and his psychological state clouds, we continue to get glimpses of Fox’s positive outlook on life.

“When AIDS Comes Home,” printed as a special supplement to the AJ&C after Fox’s death, garnered national acclaim and a Pulitzer Prize nomination.

Exhibition organizers Liana Zhou, Kinsey’s director of Library and Special Collections, and Cindy Stone, president of the IU LGBTQ+ Alumni Association, say the exhibition also aims to refocus attention on HIV/AIDS. Although no longer part of the national conversation, the illness has not gone away. “This exhibition will help restore needed awareness,” Stone said.

Despite some progress in gay rights and although HIV/AIDS is no longer thought of as a “gay disease,” prejudice against LGBTQ+ individuals still runs strong in segments of our society, Zhou and Stone continued. Fox’s identity as a “gay” man was secondary to his existence as a warm, lovable human being. Schwarz and Sternberg portray him as a son, brother and friend with whom everybody can empathize.

Schwarz’s images are excellent examples of documentary and narrative photography. They are both nouns and verbs. They characterize Fox, his family, and friends; place them in concrete settings; show them acting and interacting; define them with significant objects and clothes that 30 years later, have begun to take on the patina of an historical past.

In his first note to the medical writer, Fox explained why he was inviting Sternberg and Schwarz into his life:

I am a PWA [Person With AIDS], diagnosed on Oct. 2, 1987. I am certainly no activist, only a person living with a serious illness, trying to make the most of life. I represent a growing number of people who unfortunately are not able to share their thoughts and experiences, but if I could help one person open his mind to this problem, I would feel like I made a difference.

“Minds still need to be opened,” Zhou said. “Through this exhibition, Tom’s experience can still make a difference.”

The panel

In conjunction with the exhibition, a panel about Tom Fox and what AIDS was like in the 1980s before there was medical hope will be held Thursday, April 2, at 4:30 p.m. in Room 121 of IU’s Maurer School of Law, 211 S. Indiana Avenue.

Panelists will include Steve Sternberg and Michael A. Schwarz, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution medical writer and photojournalist who documented Fox’s illness and death. Schwarz is now a free-lance photographer and videographer in Atlanta. Sternberg is assistant managing editor for health initiatives at U.S. News & World Report.

Discussing the status of AIDS, then and now, will be Dr. William E. Cooke, who was named 2019 Family Physician of the Year by the American Academy of Family Physicians for his work in Austin, Indiana. Cooke was the sole doctor treating scores of patients who contracted HIV by sharing dirty needles used for injecting opioids.

Panelist Doug Bauder, director of IU’s LGBTQ+ Culture Center for 25 years, will share his experiences as a gay man who lived through the crisis.



About the Kinsey Institute

For over 70 years, the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University has been the premier research institute on human sexuality and relationships and a trusted source for evidence-based information on critical issues in sexuality, gender, and reproduction. The Kinsey Institute's research program integrates scholarly fields including neuroscience, psychology, anthropology, history, and gender studies. The Kinsey Institute Library and Special Collections encompass over 500,000 items spanning 2,000 years of human sexual behavior and are a destination research collection for scholars and students. Kinsey Institute outreach includes traveling art exhibitions, public scholarship, research lectures, and a continuing education program.

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