The Austin Chronicle

After a Fashion

By Stephen MacMillan Moser, July 17, 2009, Columns

TODD VEE He used to scare me with his wizened eyes and bandanna on his head. All he needed was a parrot on his shoulder and a hook instead of a hand, and he would have practically looked like a storybook pirate. But when I moved here 10 years ago, he knew everybody that I knew, so I gingerly tried to cozy up to him. "I'm Todd Wolfson," the photographer said as I finally introduced myself to him at a gallery opening one night. His big bear of a paw wrapped around mine, and I was speechless. Coming to my senses moments later, I explained who I was and he dismissed me by saying: "Yeah, yeah. You're Margaret's brother, and you write about fashion. Well there's no fashion industry in Austin, so you might consider covering something else." "Well," I thought to myself, "how would someone like that know about fashion?" "Don't you know?" my friend Gail asked me. "Todd's been covering the Austin scene since the beginning of time." Soon it seemed like I had seen him a thousand times in a few months, and even sooner, he told me how much he loved Margaret and considered her to be family – and that because of that he considered me family too. I was deeply touched but afraid at the same time. Todd did know everyone, and because of that, he was intimidating to me. He knew the singers, musicians, models, actors, restaurateurs, and other figures that made the scene happen. I wanted to know them all too, and in fact, many of them became close friends of mine over time. Todd was SoCo before it became SoCool. At the beginning of the SoCo revolution, around 1999, everything seemed so new and stylish (alongside the existing landmarks such as the Continental Club, Just Guns, Rivers & Reefs, and El Sol y La Luna), and Todd was at every party, opening, happening, and launch. Not being a fashionista of any kind, one might say he stuck out like a sore thumb at those events; on the contrary, he was an elder statesman at these things – someone who has seen it all and done it all. Yet, at the same time, when confronted with a new image or concept, Todd's excitement is palpable. His deep love for music is evident in his portraits, particularly those of his dear friends Alejandro Escovedo, Sara Hickman, Laura Scarbrough, and so many others. His vision of fashion and beauty does not neatly fit in with anyone else's idea of fashion and beauty. The nuances of imperfection, the unexpected flicker of true emotion, and a glimpse into the soul are the trademarks of a Todd Wolfson photo. He never takes thousands of pictures hoping to find one he likes; he arranges the subject the way he wants them to be and composes the scenario exactly as he sees it in his mind. When the moment is right, he snaps the picture. Courtney Love once told my sister that "Bad lighting has killed careers." Truer words were never spoken, and Todd is a master when it comes to lighting. He has the magic eye – the same eye as Irving Penn, Francesco Scavullo, and Annie Liebowitz – that tells the brain, "Now!" And sure enough, the photo is a masterpiece. For that, Todd is Austin's first-call portrait photographer and a personal hero of mine. On Sunday, July 12, Todd's delightful paramour Mickey Mann wrote on Facebook that Todd had an accident on his bicycle: Shortly before 6am, Todd was riding his bike, hit a depression in the pavement and was hurled to the street, landing on his right elbow and his head. He managed to drag himself out of the street and lie there until EMS arrived within a few minutes. He was covered with bruises and abrasions and required 12 stitches to close the wound on his head. The orthopedic surgeon in attendance at the emergency room said that it was close to being the worst elbow injury he'd ever seen. The joint itself was split open, and the arm was fractured in two places. Repairing the elbow involved 16 pins and two plates (the operating room nurse told Mickey that she'd never seen so many pins put into one elbow). The prognosis is not good. "Though he will never be able to fully extend his arm forward again, or touch his hand to his right shoulder, he will be able to use the arm again after several months of healing and rehab," Mickey wrote in an e-mail to friends. For a photographer, this could break his career. But for Todd, who has survived a thousand things, there is no doubt that he will find it within himself to make his body work the way he needs it to and that he can overcome this tragic setback and reign supreme once again. So, Toddy Boy, buck up. You have thousands of friends who are hoping, wishing, and praying for a speedy recovery, me included. You have always been there for all of us, and we will always be there for you.

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