FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — During a visit to Greece in 2009, Michael Cambetes discovered a beautiful two-story, Victorian-style home, noting that most of the houses he saw were only one story. It had been left abandoned, rusty lock and all, and Cambetes, when asking around, soon learned the owner had died of AIDS — the first AIDS-related death on the island, he was told.
“It’s sad,” he said. “They shun it because they think it’s the next plague.”
While maybe not as extreme, people in the U.S. are still fairly ignorant about the disease, Cambetes said. “HIV is still one of those hush-hush things.”
He set a goal to create a project to raise HIV/AIDS awareness.
“A Touch of Red” combines his love of photography — something he’s done as a hobby since he was 13 (he was given a camera because he was a hyperactive kid) — with his mission to raise HIV/AIDS awareness.
For the project, Cambetes shoots photos of people posing nude or semi-nude (semi-nude meaning, simply, showing a little skin). The photos are done in black and white, with an object highlighted in red in each.
People are also encouraged to bring an object that personalizes the photo — a guitar, a favorite pair of boots, a basketball — “something that is them,” he said.
Red lipstick and gloves, red stripes in socks, red underwear, red footprints.
He uses Photoshop to create the effect but keeps manipulation to a minimum.
“My whole interest was not to get supermodels,” he said. “I wanted an ordinary group of people willing to step out of their normal box.”
He hopes that during the process of being photographed, stripped of the external layers of clothing, these individuals involved will realize that people are suffering from AIDS, that we need education, awareness and a cure.
“He explained that you’d wear something red, and the red would represent the awareness,” said Robin Daymude, who modeled for the project.
Daymude, 57, knew Cambetes through a former job with Wells Fargo and, when asked to pose, immediately asked how “partially nude” he wanted it.
“He does his photos really tastefully and to your own comfort level,” she explained.
She and her daughter, Karissa Rodgers, decided to go for it, and on a sweltering summer day last year, they met Cambetes in his Frederick apartment and modeled in his living room studio. They brought red flowers, red silk pajamas and red sheets.
When Cambetes noticed a butterfly tattoo on Daymude’s shoulder blade, he focused on that. When he stripped the images of their color, Daymude suggested he make the tattoo red. The final portrait shows the bare shoulder of Daymude, as she gazes softly to the side.
Her daughter was a little more confident, Daymude added. Rodgers wrapped her arms over her breasts, revealing her own tattoo: a heart with wings on her chest.
“It was a fun experience,” Daymude said, “and I think it’s a good cause. People need to be educated more — not just the younger generation but all generations.”
Cambetes has been working on the project part-time ever since returning from Greece, spreading the word through Facebook and other social media outlets, and through word-of-mouth, friends and co-workers.
About 50 people have volunteered to model for him, and when he hits 200, he’ll consider this phase of the project complete.
“I don’t need money — I need people to pose,” he said.
He plans to hold exhibits throughout the process, with one major exhibit after reaching 200 photos. In January, he exhibited a mini art show in Frederick.
He also acts as a mini-show himself.
“I’ve been doing a touch of red with everything I wear,” Cambetes said, flaunting his red shirt, showing off his red phone case and red highlights in his hair.
It’s an excuse to talk about his project.
Lipstick, he tried once, for maybe five minutes. He laughed. “I couldn’t pull that off.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)