Thursday, August 16, 2012

Cameron Wolf -- an interview w/ T.C. Blue


So I've mentioned my old friend Cameron Wolf a few times here (old as in I've known him for ages, not as in he's old or anything because if he is then I am and that's NOT allowed to happen), and guess what? I'm actually ready to share the wee interview I bullied him into agreeing to! :D

Now, back in the day (I totally just said that, didn't I? But in this case, the day was not so long ago), Cam and I were roommates. Flatmates, really, as we didn't share a room. We had our whole goth/punk (on my part) and punk/goth (on his) thing going on and we were fucking fabulous! *grins* If you don't believe me, check out my pics on FB! LOL

We were young and stupid and did all sorts of crazy things just because we could. Luckily, it didn't kill either of us, though the same can't be said for several of our friends from that time... and for me, at least, for friends I made later, too.

What does this wee view into Tis' past have to do with anything, you ask? Well, it has an awful LOT to do with today's post.

We were crazy and young and kinda stupid, yes, but we survived. Me and Cameron. We went our separate ways, way back when, and have been sort of hit-and-miss in the time since. But to this day, I do still consider him a friend. He's also one of those people -- we all have them -- who changed me in ways I still can't define, and that's a good thing. I like that. So when I saw on his FB page that he was going to have an exhibit of his photographic art at the World AIDS Conference 2012 last month (July), I decided to Metro my ass down into DC and see it... and him. (Seeing Cameron mattered more to me, to be honest, but I was also looking forward to seeing the various exhibits in the Global Village section of the Conference. Global Village was open to the public and didn't require registration for the Conference, which is a good thing as the charge for a one day pass was $450 US, to the best of my recollection.)

So I went to the Global Village and was astonished by all the booths and people and information available. It was fucking awesome! And then I found Cameron's area with the photos he'd taken whilst living in Bangkok.

I'm not one of those people who goes to galleries or museums. I'm not one of the folks who look at art and go "Oh, wow, that's amazing, I need to own it!" That's just not my thing. But the pictures I saw there, in the exhibit... were glorious. Triumphant. Brilliant!

And they were Cameron's.

He was there because of his... well, you know what? This is way more than enough lead-in. I'm going to just let you guys get on to the interview (and accompanying pictures).

* * *


TCB: Hello, Cameron, and thank you for stopping by Cafe Risque. I know you're an incredible photographer and we'll get to that shortly, but can you give our readers a bit of background about you? What do you do for a living these days, and what was involved with pursuing that path?

CW: Hello there!  Well you know I always have loved the arts.  I studied music from early years through high school and gravitated first toward sculpture.  I think you will recall some of the series of twisted bodies emerging from the walls with broken mirrors that I had up in some club events back in the late 80s.  I minored in photography during my undergrad studies at the University of Maryland Baltimore Country (UMBC) while majoring in sociology and it just felt natural and easy.  I had a cheap pawn shop camera and never used any expensive equipment or lighting.  I always photographed people, but at first more as sculptures than portraits.  I began to show my work in local group shows in Baltimore and Washington and then as benefits for AIDS organizations and the 1993 March on Washington for LGBT Equal Rights.  This was a time when the AIDS epidemic was still raging out of control and I was exploring my anger and the way that AIDS changed the way that we see the world.   By the time I finished my BA in in 1993, I had been picked up by the Nye Gomez Gallery in Baltimore and they featured a solo show of my work.  They represented a number of amazing figurative photographers and I had to think long and hard about whether I wanted to go to art school or into health.  When I got accepted into Harvard for public health, the decision was made.  I remember my mother saying, “Nobody says no to Harvard.” At the same time, I have always been an activist.  I knew that I had a calling to fight AIDS.  I saw from the ACT UP days that art was a powerful tool at changing attitudes.
While at Harvard, I still continued shooting in my spare time and participating in a local art cooperative run out of the Noonan Gallery in Cambridge during my Master’s and then in DC with a gay artist group called the Triangle Artist Group (TAG) while doing my doctoral studies in Public Health at Johns Hopkins.  While finishing my degree, I was recruited into government work at the very beginning of pilot work on bringing ART (Antiretroviral Therapies) to developing countries.  It was an exciting time.  In 2006, I moved to Thailand and this is where the body of work featured at the 2012 AIDS Conference began.  I always appreciated and supported local and underground artists and galleries and while visiting a local show at an emerging gallery and alternative performance space, I found a perfect home for a show.  I had been touched by the dedication of SWING and their incredible story working with male and TG sex workers and knew that I wanted to help them do their first fund-raiser.  It was an amazing success and featured local and international artists performing, a condom fashion show by SWING, and an after-party from a British club promoter.  So that was how it started.  After that we had two more shows and SWING continued to develop and grow.


TCB: You recently had a photographic showing at the World AIDS Conference 2012, in the Global Village area. How did that come about, and can you tell us a bit more about SWING? How did the organization start and what are its goals?

CW: My most recent exhibition, Transcendents: Beyond Limitations – Living and Fighting HIV in Bangkok, features 18 black and white images on canvas.  Jointly sponsored by myself and Service Workers IN Group (SWING, Thailand) -- an HIV prevention and care program that targets male and transgendered (TG) sex workers-- the exhibition opened in Washington, DC at the International AIDS Conference on July 22, 2012.  The show, which was free to the public and attracted thousands of attendees and passersby in it’s “Global Village”, ran until the conference’s closing ceremonies on July 27th. 
This specially curated show is a selection of highlights from my three previous solo photography exhibitions in Bangkok, which, like this latest exhibition in DC, are fundraisers for SWING in which all of the sales proceeds went to the organization’s HIV prevention efforts, emergency care and medicine and, wherever possible, antiretroviral therapy (ART) for HIV-positive sex workers who do not have access to health care.

Established in 2004 with funding from The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), where I am currently employed as Senior HIV/AIDS Advisor for Most At Risk Populations, SWING provides health education, group activities, and an accepting social environment for sex workers of any gender.  This is an important delineation as most initiatives in Thailand historically excluded males from outreach and focused primarily on females in the sex trade industry.  SWING’s drop-in centers function as shelters and second homes for sex workers, providing an atmosphere that encourages learning and sharing of information on health, self-care, and support in a country with a staggering rate of infection particularly in men who have sex with men (MSM).  The latest HIV survey data from 2010 in Bangkok – a city of some 12 million people – report HIV prevalence is 31% (42% among those over age 25) among men who have sex with men.  However, for male sex workers, SWING’s key target rates are significantly lower – 16% compared with the aforementioned 31% for all MSM which gives hope that with expanded coverage, disease rates can be lowered.  SWING activities targeting male and TG sex workers have been expanded to the resort cities of Pattaya, approximately 100 miles southeast of Bangkok and Koh Samui, Thailand’s second largest island after Phuket. 



TCB: I was thrilled and excited by the dancing performed at the exhibit. In fact, it seemed to be a highlight of the event, judging by the crowd that gathered for the performances. Have your photographic exhibits always included this sort of performance, and if not, when and how did that come about?

CW: In conjunction with the exhibition, SWING members and performers Apinun Srisamutnak (nicknamed “X”), Rungroj (Roger) Madayung and Chamrong (“Tee”) Phaengnongyang , from Thailand, who are featured in the images, danced and showcased condom dresses made by SWING members.  All of the exhibitions have featured SWING and local artists, who were also models for the images, performing.  SWING’s members come together to create amazing haute couture dresses that feature intricate rosettes of condoms of different colors tied tightly together that look almost like flower petals.  They proudly feature dozens of these colorful costumes in different venues where they capture attention and raise awareness of the people.  One of the images that I had in the show was a group shot of SWING members and volunteers in their costumes at the Hau Lamphong national train station.  Another features three transgender SWING members modeling in the condom dresses (Three Fates).  Additionally, the wings in the image Naga With Monkey Army are adorned with condoms by SWING as well.

 My shows are multi-media events of music, dance, fashion and awareness raising, and very well attended.  I like that I am part of a collaborative effort which brings creativity from many different perspectives.  The dancing that “X” does, in beautifully crafted, traditionally-inspired Thai costumes, is a fusion of ancient classical style with more modern interpretations.  He performed as a Thai puppet, which like Pinocchio, is released from strings; and another piece as a half-swan, half-human, androgynous creature, he is chased by a hunter, akin to a Thai version of Swan Lake.



TCB: Are you associated with any other programs you'd like to mention here?

CW: Not that I can think of at the moment.



TCB: Now that you've returned to the Washington, DC area, do you have further exhibits planned? Your pictures are amazing. I can only imagine how many people would love to see them in person.

CW: I don’t have anything planned at the moment.  Now that I've moved back to the US, I would like to continue to show the work here as well as other venues in Asia and globally.  I think I’ll produce a “Transcendents” book documenting this body of work.  I consider Thailand my second home now, so I would like to continue to work with SWING, who have become part of my family.  For the future, I have an idea to do portraits in different countries and am particularly inspired by gay activists making history in Africa and transgender activists around the world. 



TCB: I know you lived in Thailand for quite a while before relocating to the DC area again. What do you miss most about Bangkok?

CW: The amazingly delicious and inexpensive Thai food; $12 two-hour Thai massages; and the charming and lovely people. Thailand is a place that really values beauty and creativity.


TCB: Thanks again for your time, Cameron. Feel free to stop by the Cafe any time. 

CW: Thank you!

I'm hoping to post more about Cameron and his work with SWING as time goes on. I'll absolutely let you guys know if he's going to be doing any gallery shows/exhibits around the US.
All photos in this post are copyrighted by Cameron Wolf, and you can stalk him on FaceBook at http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000896020443#!/cameronwolfphotography. Photos are used with permission from the artist.
And that's it for today, peeps! Hope you've enjoyed meeting my friend! :)

~Tis (who seriously STILL can't believe she knows someone who went to Harvard AND Johns Hopkins! LOL)

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