BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – An exhibition of 60 iconic photographs documenting Indiana University alumnus Tom Fox’s battle with AIDS in the late 1980s will hang in the Grand Hall of Maxwell Hall on the IU Bloomington campus.
“Wild Horse Running: The Courageous Journey of Tom Fox,” presented by IU’s Kinsey Institute in conjunction with the IU Cook Center for Public Arts and Humanities housed in Maxwell Hall, will run from Aug. 5 through Sept. 23. It is free to the public, and doors will open from 5 to 8 p.m. Aug. 5 during Bloomington’s First Friday Gallery Walk. On Sept. 23, a reception is planned at 5 p.m., followed at 6 p.m. with a program.
Photojournalist Michael A. Schwarz and medical reporter Steve Sternberg will speak at the reception about their experiences as they covered Fox’s final months for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Their feature, which was published in an 18-page special section titled “When AIDS Come Home,” forms the basis of the exhibition and accompanying catalog. William Yarber, senior director of the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention, senior scientist at the Kinsey Institute and Provost Professor in the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington, will offer concluding remarks.
This summer will mark 33 years since the death of Fox, who graduated from Bloomington High School South and Indiana University. His late parents, Robert and Doris Fox, set the exhibition in motion in 2019 when they donated more than 230 photographs and other memorabilia Schwarz had given them to the Kinsey Institute. The collection was part of a virtual exhibition in 2020 and includes a photograph of Fox on his death bed, surrounded by his grief-stricken family. The photo became an iconic image of the early days of the AIDS epidemic.
Fox was an advertising representative at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution when he invited Schwarz and Sternberg to document his last months. Together, their goal was to educate readers about the then devastating disease while inspiring empathy for the people it affected.
In his first note to Sternberg, Fox explained why he was inviting the journalists into his life.
“I am a PWA (Person With AIDS), diagnosed on Oct. 2, 1987,” he wrote. “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.”
The photographs show Fox facing his illness and death with humor, courage and a love for life in an inspiring reflection on the human condition. Fox is shown interacting with family and friends, clowning for laughs, and bonding with his dogs. During a time when the public often feared and shunned individuals diagnosed with HIV/AIDS due to a lack of understanding, the photographs revealed a relatable and poignant glance into the reality of the disease.
Schwarz’s photographs also document the harsh side of Fox’s experience, taking the viewer into intimate moments Fox shared with his 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.
Exhibition organizers Liana Zhou, director of the Kinsey Institute Library & Special Collections, and Cynthia P. Stone, senior lecturer emeritus for the Kelley School of Business, said the exhibition is intended to renew awareness of HIV/AIDS.
Zhou and Stone said that while the myth that HIV/AIDS is a “gay disease” was debunked long ago, prejudice against LGBTQ+ people still runs strong in segments of our society. Schwartz and Sternberg portray him as a son, brother and friend whose identity as a gay man was secondary to his existence as a warm, lovable human being.
“Minds still need to be opened,” Zhou said. “Through this exhibition, Tom’s experience can still make a difference.”