December 19, 2011
"Project Headshot" is a unique campaign that uses stylized online photos to raise HIV/AIDS awareness among young people in the Philippines.
The effort is the brainchild of fashion and conceptual photographer Niccolo Cosme, who started it in 2007 as a way of merging online profile photos and advertising. After a friend declared himself HIV-positive, Cosme decided HIV/AIDS education would be the campaign's central mission. "Profile photos can be potential online billboards," he said.
Each year, the effort makes use of a unifying element to distinguish the campaign. This year, participants wore a red whistle around their neck to "sound the alarm" on the AIDS epidemic.
"You know how when you open your Facebook account and you get a notification that says 'This many friends have changed their profile photos,' and you see all the photos are the same. The impact is viral," said Cosme.
Project Headshot is backed by UNAIDS. "Social media tools hold huge potential to help raise the awareness and mobilize the social action needed to turn the tide on the HIV epidemic," the agency says on its website.
Participants have embraced the idea of having their photo taken for free by a professional photographer and being part of a high-profile campaign for a good cause. Prior to shooting, Project Headshot works with the nonprofit Take The Test to educate participants on HIV/AIDS in the Philippines and provide free voluntary screening.
According to new UNAIDS data, the Philippines is one of seven countries reporting a surge in HIV cases amid decreases in most other countries worldwide. As of March 2011, six new HIV infections were logged each day in the Philippines.