Amos Mac doesn’t want to miss out.
“I don’t want to die knowing that I could have taken portraits of specific people at one time and didn’t,” says the Brooklyn photographer, publisher, artist and blogger. “I make sure to photograph everyone I want to.”
The people Mac wants to photograph, the ones he wants to document and celebrate, are people like him: transgender.
“I was sick of seeing portraits of trans men in art shows taken by non-trans people who were photographing trans people because they felt we are exotic or different or just so fascinating and neat,’” he says.
He was living in San Francisco when the desire to create a body of images of trans men led to the creation of Original Plumbing, a quarterly magazine for female-to male (FTM) trans guys. It is a collection of images, stories and anecdotes of the daily lives and issues many trans men face. So far there are eight issues, with a ninth going to print this month.
“Trans people are human beings with lives that go far beyond surgical procedures, body parts and hormones,” he says. “So in the interviews with my models, I made sure they discussed their full lives beyond trans stuff.”
Mac’s photo work has been exhibited far and wide, including in New York, San Francisco and Australia. He even photographed his friend and musician Hunx – of bands Gravy Train!!!! and Hunx and His Punx – for Italian Vogue. Mac recently directed a video for transgender rapper Katastrophe, aka Rocco Kayiatos. Kayiatos, one of Mac’s best friends, is also an editor of Original Plumming. In fact, it was a photo session with Kayiatos that led to the idea for the magazine.
“I was photographing him in his bedroom with a Twinkie sticking out of his underwear for the series that turned into Original Plumbing’s first issue,” he recalls. “Neither of us had close trans male friends at that time, and we bonded immediately around the idea of Original Plumbing magazine.”
Mac is also responsible for Translady Fanzine, an art project-cum-magazine.
“I was dying to create a photo project that focused on trans women, human connection through photography and cross-identity trans representation, and to make it such a large body of work that I could turn it into a publication,” he explains.
Mac worked with artist Zackary Drucker on the project; he emphasizes that Translady is a collaboration between photographer and subject.
“I don’t see it as a magazine but as a periodical art project,” he says. “Making a male-gaze-oriented project where I focus on one trans woman per body of work and allowing the model to tell me where and what we will shoot, literally puts a twist on where the gaze is really coming from.”
For Mac, collaboration and communication are part-and-parcel of how he works in his projects. The Original Plumbing website is supplemented by an army of bloggers who comment on everything from what it’s like to be trans and in prison to the use of language within the trans community.
“I remember personal transition websites where guys documented their transitions before anyone was really talking about it,” he says. “Every moment the internet is flooded with more and more info on transitions and personal experiences, so I think it’s helpful and a positive thing for trans and queer people.”
When asked if he thinks he and his body of work are a form of activism, Mac is somewhat modest.
“I don’t know how much I identify with the term activist, because that isn’t the reason I’m a photographer or an artist,” he says. “Documenting trans culture in portrait form is something I’m passionate about, but I’m not doing it to change the world. I’m just doing it, almost like survival, because it’s how I’m wired. I wanted to create images I wasn’t seeing.”