Rafal Gerszak

Jason Lemay was living in Winnipeg in 1998 when he contracted HIV from sharing needles. After learning of his illness, he wanted to disappear into the crowd. Like so many others, he was drawn to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, where an estimated 1,900 out of 17,000 residents live with HIV or AIDS. Raven Alexander suffered a serious brain stem injury in May 1978 after a violent sexual assault. She was left legally blind and had difficultly speaking and performing everyday tasks.

In 1999, Jason and Raven met.

In this photo, taken by Rafal Gerszak in September 2007, Jason bathes Raven in the communal bathroom at the Dodson Hotel. They lived together at the Eastside hotel until they decided to move to Winnipeg in 2008. They hoped to kick their drug addiction and reconcile with Jason’s family, but they failed at both. They moved back to Vancouver’s Eastside, to where they first found each other, and were together until Jason’s death on July 29, 2009. This image reminds us that even in our darkest moments we can reach out and help another person and both are richer for the effort.

Born in Poland (1980), Rafal Gerszak was forced with his family to flee their home during the Soviet era and live for some time in a West German refugee camp. After immigrating to Canada in 1990, he began to identify with socially displaced groups and spent time documenting drug culture in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside before starting on a long term projects in Afghanistan.
A graduate of the Photography Program at Langara College in Vancouver, Canada, Rafal specializes in long-term documentary projects focusing on communities and people in the underclass of Canadian society and the conflict in Afghanistan. His work has been exhibited internationally including at The New York Photo Festival and Noorderlicht Photofestival in the Netherlands. In addition, his photographs have been published in newspapers and magazines worldwide. In 2011, he was selected as one of the winners of Flash Forward, The Magenta Foundation’s international competition for emerging photographers.