Photography by M. Sharkey
I first met Amos Mac at the opening of a group show we were both in at the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in 2012. As a fan of Original Plumbing, the trans male culture quarterly he founded with Rocco Kayiatos, I made a point of finding him and introducing myself. It was immdiately obvious why he's so popular: Amos Mac possesses that enviable mix of teen-idol-adorable and bad-boy-mischievous looks. Not only does he publish one the coolest queer zines around, he also creates most of its content. At the time, he had recently released his collaboration with Zackary Drucker, Translady Fanzine, which succinctly describes itself as “a fine art photographic periodical, a collaboration between model and photographer, trans woman and trans man, visual proof of contemporary trans existence.” That's precisely what all of Mac’s endeavors are about: change and visibility.
Almost six years after it’s debut, OP is still going strong, with subscribers and readers around the globe — and the trans community it's fostered is formidable. I caught up with Amos last month and talked about this remarkable achievement, as well as his thoughts on fashion, food, and the future of trans politics.
XXM: It’s been awhile since we saw each other last. What have you been up to?
Amos Mac: Well, I just photographed a campaign in Sweden for & Other Stories. It’s a women’s clothing line and that will be out in August. An all trans cast and crew.
Had you been to Sweden before?
It was my first time. It was only 48 hours. I want to go back!
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Philadelphia and also in Augusta, Georgia. I was born in Augusta and moved to Philly when I was 8.
When was the first issue of OP?
In the fall of 2009. Every issue is theme-based and this latest issue, "Read," is focused on writers and poets. We did one on Atlanta called the "Hotlanta" issue. We did a "Selfie" issue, which was a lot of reader-submitted work.
The magazine has been a real lightning rod, no?
I think it started something for sure. And it’s appreciated by people outside of the community. The whole point of it was to create something offline. That was a major point, the print mag. It has grown into other things.
It feels like it embodies a very queer ethos aesthetically.
We definitely enjoy not claiming that there’s a way to be a trans masculine person. It’s very queer when it comes to sexuality. When people talk about sexuality, it’s across the board. It isn’t just point A to point B. The stories are important. And that is something I never saw. You know, my initial impression was that you transition, become a straight man and then fade away into the world.
It’s more inclusive and more multidimensional. Maybe that’s just part of the time, too.
Yes, diverse in terms of sexuality and identity. And some of the people in there don’t even identify as a trans man, just trans masculine, or just man, just a man. Not even trans. We just try and have no rules with the publication and allow people to speak for themselves.
It feels like an exciting moment in history, like the sexual revolution of the '60s was a preamble to this, which is almost a more radical moment.
I think that there’s a big transgender civil rights movement happening right now. And that this is, with gay marriage and what happened the other day [with SCOTUS], just part of a continuation of the sexual revolution. It’s a moment. Everything’s moving forward.
Yes. The Supreme Court decision is a dividing line where we can now actually move forward...
And pay attention to other things, other issues at hand.
Exactly. That feels exciting. We can put this behind us, and really start conceiving a future that we want to be a part of. This feels the most relevant to you and your work. Where do you find your inspiration?
Absolutely. I’ve been really burnt-out for a while and recently been getting more inspiration from people who… I don’t know how to say this, their positivity, their positive outlook. It sounds so cheesy. I’ve got to find a better way to say it, but I guess I don’t even really know what inspires me anymore.
I guess whatever is inspiring the people in my photographs is what inspires me. A lot of times I just like to photograph, to capture moments with people who are artists or creative, cultural producers. And they are representing themselves in front of me. It’s all about how they present themselves, picking their own looks and bringing their own style to it. I rarely work with a big team of people. When it comes to a personal photo-shoot with someone, it’s usually just myself and the other person.
You’re a real portrait photographer.
It feels like a documenting moment. I love having this archive of queer artists.
That intersection is also what’s most interesting to me in my work. The document and the portrait. One thing I have definitely gravitated away from in the past five or 10 years is fashion. The industry feels oppressive. But I do see a lot of interesting work being made in that genre. And of course they are the ones that actually have the money to produce a lot of visual image-making. But I do find it empty.
It’s very binary. Well, maybe it’s not, I don’t know. There’s this definite body type. There’s one way to look. It’s not very inclusive or diverse, in terms of human form. On many levels. So that’s painful to watch, to look at. It’s not very enjoyable. So that’s why it’s important for people to create their own work.
There was the Rick Owens show in Paris when he used mostly black women of various body types, all from a step-dance troupe, as models.
That stuff is exciting to me. That makes me excited about fashion and I’d love to be a part of it on a level where it’s about change and visibility. Change and visibility.
And also just the celebration of difference. It’s possible that that is the future. Do you listen to music?
I like to listen to Marina and the Diamonds, Justin Bieber, One Direction. I love pop music. I’m like myself at twelve with music so… Rihanna.
Who would be a dream subject to photograph?
I think John Waters would be fun.
He’s one of my all-time favorite people. The combination of John Waters and Divine is the very best thing that happened in the 20th Century. I can’t think of anything better than the two of them together. Anyone else?
I think it would be cool to photograph Miley Cyrus, especially with her Happy Hippie Foundation that she launched this Pride. Those awesome photographs of trans, gender nonconforming, queer youth and adults. So cool. That’s great to see publicly. I think she’d be really fun to photograph.
Do you like Taylor Swift?
I do. Oh my god. I would like to photograph Taylor Swift in a way that she’s never been photographed before. She always has the red lips, and the very country-yet-urban look. I don’t know how I would photograph her. Maybe in some super dark look.
Do you look at magazines?
Yes, I love magazines. I love Teen Vogue. I love Interview. I read Time magazine every week.
The actual print version?
I subscribe to print magazines. I try to keep it alive. Keep print alive somehow. But when it comes to actual… I don’t know… I don’t really have any favorite photographers or artists.
What’s your favorite food?
I love zoodles. Making zucchini noodles. I have a zoodler. You just screw it in and it makes these noodle-looking things. And then I usually sautée it. And then I’ll add bell peppers, some tofu, sesame oil.
Are you vegetarian?
And you do most of your own cooking?
Yeah. My boyfriend loves to order in. But I like to cook. Sometimes I’m too tired after working. But ideally I would cook every day. Three meals a day. I love to wake up early and cook breakfast. Even if it’s just oatmeal with fruit. And I love baking in the winter. I love cooking stews and soups. I have tons of beautiful cookbooks. I try to cook vegan as much as possible, even though I’m not. I just appreciate that. Do you like to cook?
I do. I would say once a week I don’t cook dinner. But the rest of the time I cook.
It’s so fun. I like your kitchen. It’s so nice to feed people.
Yes! To spend time in the kitchen and hang out and eat and drink. And restaurants can be so annoying.
And gross. You don’t know what you’re actually eating. My boyfriend was so sweet yesterday. I had a stressful day so he cooked me dinner, which I know really stresses him out. Being in a kitchen is not his favorite place. But he was trying to do something nice and it was really sweet. He made red peppers stuffed with quinoa and zoodles. It was delicious.
Do you know Yotam Ottolenghi?
Does he make those beautiful books? Like Plenty? Those are the best books!
They’re fantastic. I love him. And vegetables play a big role in most of his cuisine.
A psychic of mine told me the best food for me is Mediterranean. Because every body type is different, everyone needs certain things, like specific fats. So they function the best. Mediterranean for me is the best. My favorite cookbook is Isa Does It. She also wrote Vegan With a Vengeance. Beautiful photos and vegan dishes.
Do you know Put an Egg On It?
I photographed for them once. It’s a great zine. I have a huge zine collection, and that’s in it.
What do you collect?
I collect anything that anyone sends to me, I get a lot of people sending me zines in the mail because of my work. And I really love going to art book fairs that they have here and in Los Angeles. I’ll grab some vintage porn when I’m there. I’m also given a lot of vintage porn. And I love collecting teen magazines from around the world. Whenever someone goes somewhere out of the U.S., I ask them to bring back a teen mag from that city. Italian, Swedish, Japanese…
What’s your favorite porn to collect?
Oh, I love vintage gay porn. That’s probably a stock answer but I do.
Is there a particular era that you appreciate more than another?
It’s the '80s, with longer hair, before it got too muscled up. I also really love older physique editorial from the '50s and '60s. I have a bunch of those, too, and those I’m super inspired by, and you can see that inspiration in Original Plumbing, the size in particular. In the beginning, OP was very much sexy photos with really simple Q&A. It’s evolved over the years, but in the beginning it was very much like that, because I was taking a lot of inspiration from those physique magazines. I’m still inspired whenever I look through them. I still want to make something like that now, but with trans people.
Do you think there’s a future for print?
Of course. I think that there will always be people who appreciate printed matter: magazines, books, things offline. I don’t understand how it could ever stop, because I think it’s something that you hold in your hand. It’s different. We’re sitting around, surrounded by beautiful books right now. Can you imagine if it was just the computer screens, if that’s what would represent your collected things you find beautiful? I don’t think that beautiful objects ever completely fade away. Even if magazine print subscriptions die, and it’s just digital magazines starting today, there’s still going to be people who print little limited edition things. Even if it doesn’t last for big business — big, corporate magazines — it’s worth it for artists and people who appreciate it. Right? I spend so much money on it.
Keep up-to-date on Amos’s many projects at: AmosMac.com
M. Sharkey photographed Amos on June 30, 2015 in Ft. Greene, Brooklyn. Models: Patrick Kearns and Thomas Gibbons.
Follow M. Sharkey on Instagram @ msharkeyfoto