Valyn Calhoun's "Retrospective": Young Photographer With HIV Comes Alive Again

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Valyn Calhoun co-owned a gallery, Rasa Productions, in 2006 and took up photography seriously in 2009. But in December 2012, he had to put down his camera and head to the hospital to fight for his life.

Now, he's back to show a collection of his best pieces in "Retrospective," opening Saturday at ActivistArtistA Gallery in Boynton Beach. His pictures include an intimate exploration of fetishism, a seemingly dark homoeroticism, and a juxtaposition of the human body into new fleshy shapes through digital manipulation. On the softer side, Calhoun will display pieces filled with whimsical shadow play and his elegant series on nature.

His longtime friend Rita Baum, the first model he ever shot, is joining "Retrospective" to showcase her work to the public for the first time, a portrait series of Calhoun. "Rita is my muse, and now I've become hers," he says jokingly.


Valyn Calhoun "Retrospective," With Rita Baum

Valyn Calhoun "Retrospective," With Rita Baum, Saturday through September 27. Opening reception is Saturday, August 24, from 7 to 11 p.m. at ActivistArtistA Gallery, 422 W. Industrial Ave., Boynton Beach. Visit valynruinedmylife.com.

See also:Photographer Valyn Calhoun Holding Retrospective for Boynton Beach Art Walk

Part of the allure of Calhoun's work is that he is fearless. He will pose nude or in awkward situations for his photos, and his willingness to publicly share his life's struggles is refreshing and endearing.

Last year, Calhoun's weight dropped to 84 pounds, sending him to the hospital for three weeks. He was diagnosed as HIV-positive on December 28, 2012. "My family had exhausted their finances in keeping me alive," he says. He released images of himself looking painfully frail. "Once the news got out that I was fighting for my life, there was an outpour of love that came from the art community.

"Even those who took the time to say 'I don't know you, but I'm thinking about you,' and that's what made me want to fight," he says. Today, the 30-year-old is feeling better than ever, thanks to funding assistance through various nonprofit groups and taking a medication that costs almost $30,000 a year.

His work can be seen on his website, valynruinedmylife.com, a business name he came up with after a work mishap.

"Basically when you are in the throes of [sex addiction] itself, you don't even know if you are with a male or female because you're that far deep into it," Calhoun explains. "That's what I was trying to express — creating new body parts from original ones...

"So one of the male models was engaged, and when his fiancé saw the series, he freaked out and said: 'You must have had sex with him and cheated on me.' 

"He called me, irate, and said, 'You ruined my life, Valyn,' " Calhoun says. "I didn't ruin anyone's life, but he gave me a great company name."

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