In Memory

Brian Weil

Brian Weil

Brian Weil-Feb. 8, 1996

Brian Weil, a photographer who devoted much of his career to documenting life on society's margins and who helped found New York City's first needle exchange program, died over the weekend at his home in Manhattan. He was 41.

His body was found late Monday evening, said Bruce Stepherson, a friend and colleague. Mr. Stepherson said an autopsy would be conducted.

Mr. Weil, who was born in Chicago in 1954 and attended Columbia College there, began taking photographs as a teen-ager. By the age of 17, he had completed his first documentary project, about a home for retarded adults.

He lived for nearly a year with Hasidic Jews while photographing them in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, and spent weeks with officers of the Miami Police Department for a series on homicides. Other photographic subjects included workers in sex clubs, people with AIDS and transsexuals. His images were usually large, grainy close-ups, giving their social commentary a brooding, almost romantic darkness.

  Weil first exhibited his work at Artists Space in Manhattan in 1980. Since 1988 he had taught at the International Center of Photography, which also organized an exhibition of his AIDS photographs in 1991. The exhibition, which traveled to more than a dozen venues in the United States and Europe, was also the subject of a book, "Every 17 Seconds" (Aperture, 1992). His work is in the collections of the Jewish Museum, the International Center for Photography, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. An exhibition of his early work is currently on view at the Wooster Gardens Gallery in SoHo.

Beginning in 1985, Mr. Weil became an AIDS volunteer and organizer. He joined Act Up in the late 1980's and in 1990 was part of a small group that started a needle exchange program for drug users in Harlem and the South Bronx.

By 1993 the group had produced a study indicating that providing drug addicts with clean needles helped curb the spread of AIDS. Such findings led to a change in public policy and to the legalization of needle exchanges. The organization was subsequently incorporated as the New York Harm Reduction Educators, which now has 1,200 clients in programs including needle exchanges and H.I.V. medical and counseling services.

Two years ago Mr. Weil founded City Wide Needle Exchange, which runs a similar program in single-room-occupancy hotels whose residents include drug users who are H.I.V.-positive. Throughout the 1990's he traveled extensively, sometimes working with the World Health Organization, to help establish community-based AIDS organizations in Haiti, South Africa and Thailand.

He is survived by his mother, Paula, of San Francisco; his father and stepmother, Jack and Marilyn Weil of Chicago; a sister, Nina, of Portland, Ore., and two brothers, Kenneth, of Denver, and Daniel, of San Francisco.

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06/30/13 02:25 PM #1    

Peter Fotopoulos

I'm pretty sure that Brian was in my advisory at NTE, overseen by Bill Fly.

After my parents divorced and moved to different parts of the country, all of my NTE and Howard Jr. High yearbooks were thrown in the trash, along with all of my kindergarten through 6th grade class photos.

It's still an ugly subject for me to bring up, so I just let it go.

My brother Mark died from AIDS related issues in November of 1991. He, like Brian, was very active with Act Up, and was a courageous fighter for the rights of AIDS victims in the face of President Ronald Reagan's indifference.

I'm thinking about how many of my friends from Howard Jr. High and New Trier are no longer with us. 

This is the message: Always do your best, and live each day as if it might be your last. 



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