25 Years of AIDS Ads Put in Perspective

PSAs on display at Long View

While there are plenty of activities planned for World AIDS Day in the District, an exhibit at the Long View Gallery (1234 Ninth Street NW) takes a look back at how officials have tried to alert us to the spreading epidemic over the past 25 years.

The retrospective showcases AIDS public service ads from 1984 to the present, and focuses on how admen dealt with addressing a taboo subject in an industry some say was unwilling to discuss.

Veteran adman Jeff McElhaney was one of the first to work on AIDS PSAs in the area. Looking back, he said the stigma attached to the virus was something many didn't want to be associated with. One ad in particular was to feature models from a casting agency in Baltimore.

"We were accustomed to the royal treatment in our day jobs from the casting agencies that wanted us to use their talent," he said in a press release. "Unfortunately none wanted their models to be used for a shoot about gay sex and AIDS. We realized the only way to get this done was to pay for four male models to travel down from New York without showing them the layouts or describing the subject matter in detail. It took about 15 seconds for each of them to run for the phones to complain to their agents after seeing the shots we wanted. Fortunately it was Saturday -- and long before everyone had cell phones, so their agents never got the chance to weigh in. The models decided to stay and we got through the shoot -- creating work we were very proud of even if it wasn’t included in their personal portfolios."

The Long View Gallery will be the home of some of those early ads through the end of the month. While the stories portrayed in the ads are clear, the stories behind the PSAs may offer up so much more.

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