Symbol of longevity

Sometimes it’s the little things that pack so much significance. Take sunflowers, which appear alongside Cameron Siemers on the cover of this issue. Among the many meanings in various cultures, sunflowers signify longevity. So it was only natural to incorporate them into the photo shoot.

At 39 years old, Cameron Siemers is a long-term survivor of HIV. He acquired the virus at the age of seven through a blood factor during treatment for his hemophilia. As a youth, he started speaking at colleges and events as an ambassador for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. But it wasn’t until just before high school graduation that he became public about his status in his personal life.

“I kind of wanted to stop living with this secret,” he says. “I didn’t really feel like I needed this big secret anymore, especially because I wanted to continue to speak more openly at bigger events and have a larger platform. So, I actually spoke at my high school just before graduation.”

He has continued to address stigma and the ignorance and misinformation surrounding living with HIV.

“I can focus not only on being a positive man, but being something positive in the world,” he says. “The fact that we’re alive and still going, I think, is just positive in and of itself. The hard stuff we go through kind of gives us a perspective that most people don’t get to have, that we’re down through our core, pretty much the same and want the same things in life.” 

For Los Angeles-based photographer David Franco the photo shoot presented creative and practical challenges in this COVID era.

“The main thing for me was to make sure he was comfortable,” Franco said. “COVID-19 has changed how photographers approach shoots, and it can be a bit difficult to connect with clients while wearing a mask, but I’ve managed to make it work by keeping the vibe positive. Even though I’m fully vaccinated, I still wore a mask for the duration of the shoot. I want my subjects to let their guard down, and I think creating a safe inclusive space helps put them at ease.”

Check out Franco’s photography on Instagram: @davidfrancophoto

—Rick Guasco