Oscar Wolfman, in memoriam
I don't remember how I first came in contact with Oscar; possibly Bear411. It was late in the summer of 2004, and one way or another, we got talking about photography. I mentioned I wanted to learn how to photograph nudes, and to my amazement, he graciously volunteered.

(Set 1, Oscar, using my first P&S)
Within a couple of days, he was knocking on the front door of the house and I nervously ushered him in to the makeshift studio I'd set up in the living room.
Did I mention I was nervous? Not only was this the first time I'd ever set up a shoot with a (near-)stranger, but I found him so attractive I was having difficulty doing anything other than stare at him.
As the shoot progressed and his clothes came off, it actually got easier. We started talking, really talking, and it turned out we had a great deal to talk about. Educational theory, classical art history, language and cultural theory, gay history. The clincher happened when Marta Sebestyen came on the CD changer; not only did he understand the Hungarian, he knew Marta; he knew the particular piece; and he knew the folk traditions and the dance that accompanied it.
I was incredibly lucky to have Oscar as my first subject. Right from the beginning, portrait photography has been a subject-subject, collaborative activity for me, and I can thank Oscar for helping me sort out how to do that.

(set 2, Oscar w/ tulips, apples, pineapple)

Early in 2005 I was approached by a leather titleholder to help him with a calendar as a fundraiser for his reign. Sure, I thought, this should be interesting; I called up Oscar and he agreed to model for it. The day of that shoot, I was also photographing a bunch of fruit and some tulips for a magazine I was working on, and quite without planning it Oscar showed up in a shirt very nearly the colour of the tulips. Irresistible, of course; we had to do a few playing with the colour harmony. And since that worked out so well … let's try some fruit.
The one of Oscar's bum next to the apples graced my business cards for years; the one of him leaning on the pedestal, behind the apples, was used for the calendar.

(set 3, Oscar w/ Watermelon)

The fruit theme continued … Oscar arrived for shoot in July so sunburned that he was redder than the watermelon I gave him to work with. One can do a lot with colour correction but even so to make him look "normal"-ish, the melon ended up looking orange.

(set 4, one photo, Oscar and Ago)

November of that year, Agostino Bianchi came to visit Toronto from his native Italy. I shot an image of him and Oscar that is one of my favourites, ever.

Oscar had for years worked with the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT), both as a general volunteer but also as a "this is what it's like to be positive" educator. He asked me to submit the picture of him and Ago to the art auction ACT holds every year; it was among the selections accepted by the jury, and sold at that year's event.

(set 5, Oscar & Rob, and the wedding shot)

It was soon after that he told me that a lump on his scalp had been diagnosed as cancerous. He had surgery on his scalp and face, and chemo and radiation, and was very sick for a month, but was back on his feet fairly quickly. We did a couple shoot of him and his husband, Rob, in January of 2006.

Oscar and Rob got officially married April 22 of that year. This is them and the "wedding guests" (minus me, of course) after the ceremony, on Nathan Philips Square in Toronto.

(set 6, Oscar & jockstraps)

At one point, some magazine expressed interest in using Oscar as a jockstrap model, so my one and only "catalogue shoot" with him featured their wares.

(set 7, one photo, Oscar at MOCCA)

Later that summer, Oscar and I were gallery-hopping in Queen West in Toronto, and stopped in the MOCCA. They had an installation piece our front that consisted to a small forest of poles embedded in concrete, and painted blue.

(set 8, Oscar in dance moves)

A shoot from 2007. I was interested in exploring some of his lexicon of dance movements, so perhaps this reads as a bit Twyla; he certainly thought so :)

Soon after that, he started getting ill again. The cancer returned, and complications with his chemo disrupted his HIV meds, and he was bedridden for much of the time. But this was a tremendously productive time for him in his own artistic practise; he shot me once in 2008, in the guise of Elijah the Prophet.

(set 9, last shoot of Oscar)

It wasn't until 2010 that he felt well enough, and "together" enough, to do another nude shoot; as well, I'd been away from Toronto nearly half the time over 2009-2010. This is the last time I ever saw him in the studio. He joked that he'd been trying to lose weigh … "be careful what you wish for."

The last time I saw Oscar in the flesh was at Red Rocket Coffee, down near his house. It was a beautiful summer day, I think late July or early August of this year. He'd already decided, with his care team, that there was to be no more chemo or radiation; the therapies were killing him too.

Early on in our relationship we found that we'd both lost most of our gay friends and family during the AIDS die-off of the 80s and early 90s. We both had that survivor guilt thing, we both had that very matter of fact attitude towards preparing for the end. God knows we'd accompanied enough people through the process. So he was unhappy, but not distraught; he knew what to expect and had, I think, made what preparations one can.

He put together one last show at Queen Gallery in Toronto, see bitterlawngnome.livejournal.com/815455.html By all reports, it went very well.

Oscar passed away Monday November 21 2011, at the age of fifty-five. His obit is www.legacy.com/obituaries/montrealgazette/obituary.aspx?n... You can see his art at his website, wolfmanstudio.ca/

Edit, 2011-11-28: David Townshend has created a memorial for Oscar on his blog, anchorholder.blogspot.com/2011/11/in-memorian-oscar-wolfm...
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