Amos Mac is a contemporary trans-male photographer best known for Original Plumbing magazine, a self-published trans-male quarterly. Inspired by alternative queer magazines and a lack of positive exposure for the trans-male community, he partnered with friend Rocco Kayiatos to produce a publication to fill that gap. Original Plumbing, now in its fourth year of distribution, features Mac’s playful and often sexually suggestive portraits of FTM trans-men interwoven with articles and interviews in photo spreads styled after Teen Beat.
Mac continues his efforts to rupture notions of gender and the role of alternative publications with his serial project Translady Fanzine. Each issue of this publication features photo-pictorials of one trans–woman as its centerfold and artistic collaborator. The photos featured in Strange Bedfellows were created in collaboration with Juliana Huxtable LaDosha, and are a selection from what will be the second installation of Translady Fanzine.
LaDosha is a former employee of New York’s American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and member of New York’s infamous drag house, House of LaDosha. Antonio Blair (“Dosha Devastation”) and Adam Radakovich (“Cunty Crawford LaDosha”) dually make up the musical phenomenon that is House of LaDosha, but the group also includes artists, writers and other creative individuals of diverse backgrounds, drawn together for the sense of family and community.
Juliana describes her taken names’s reference to The Cosby Show saying, “ If there was a queerdo, t– gurl Huxtable child who booped the black enterprise career track, generally did her own thing and maybe got cut off from the family funds for showing up to Spellman in a Bard look, I would be that child.”
In the two and a half years that she worked at the ACLU, LaDosha met a good deal of liberal racism and transphobia. In reaction to this and her decision to leave her position, LaDosha and Mac came together to create a series of photos reclaiming that space. In bold photos shown alongside her essay about the transphobia she faced in a “liberal” and “progressive” office setting, this project reclaims the commodification of trans bodies on the artist’s own terms.
I had the opportunity to discuss the project with Amos and Juliana, and learn more about their collaboration.
Amy Cancelmo: How did you meet, and how did your collaboration come to fruition?
Juliana Huxtable LaDosha: I knew about Amos far before he knew me from Original Plumbing. He was sort of a queer icon for me. Working with Amos was a dream come true. I tried not to literally gag when he first reached out to me.
Amos Mac: I’m in the process of making a living archive of portraits featuring a young generation of queer culture makers/artists/performers. I saw Juliana at a house party in Bushwick a couple of years ago and left the party kicking myself for not saying hi. The next day she added me on Facebook and pretty soon after that I asked if she’d let me photograph her.
AC: You two have worked together before on Amos’ Bedroom Series. What was different about this project, and what made it more of a collaboration?
JHLD: Our earlier projects were him photographing me in settings that were circumstantial. Although clearly I knew he was coming to my apartment to photograph me, the ultimate goal was to capture me as a subject in surroundings that would be there regardless of the presence of his camera to capture it.
AM: When I am going to shoot an artist in their space or out in a specific location, they know that I am going there with my own vision, to capture a particular moment. With collaborations, it’s about the bigger picture and seeing where we can go with an initial idea and what we can get away with. With the series I made with Zackary Drucker and Juliana, (Translady Fanzine) I approached them to make a larger body of work with me — I wanted them to be part of the bigger picture. I see these as separate projects, the specific collaborations vs. my own portrait series.
AC: So Translady Fanzine was the first “collaborative” photo shoot you worked on. Can you talk a little bit about that project, and your first iteration with Zachary Drucker?
AM: I knew Zackary, her films had played at OP events in LA more than once… and we were in the same world, you know? I emailed her, asking her if I could take portraits of her for a project that I would print into a periodical of some kind. The finished product was all to be determined at that point– but I knew I wanted it to be one trans woman and multiple “looks” or scenes. She responded to my email that she would love to “collaborate on performative photographs” with me. That was the first time I had heard a photo shoot called that! And it completely hit me and I got it immediately — It put the series in a whole new light and I realized how she was not just a subject but an artist herself, who wanted to create a body of work WITH me, not just allow me to use her body/presence in any way I saw fit through my lens. It opened my eyes– not only an artist but as a transgender person — and it has taught me more about trust between artists, and about ownership, visions and human connection.
AC: How did you two decide on shooting at the ACLU, and are there any funny stories about your time spent in there shooting?
JHLD: I’ve worked for two and a half years as a Legal Assistant for the Racial Justice Program at the ACLU. What began as my dream job eventually turned into something that I felt trapped in. It had less to do with the organization itself than the general trials and difficulties that come with transitioning in the larger 9-5 workforce. I felt restricted by the gap between the politics of people who, despite their best and most liberal intentions, saw me as a problem.
AM: Shooting at the ACLU was such an incredible option….. When Juliana and I were brainstorming about collaboration ideas, she brought up the issues she was having and feeling around her work place, and talked about quitting soon, and what she wanted to express. When the option of shooting within the ACLU after hours came up, it felt so perfect…. almost like a dream. I knew we had to get in there and shoot!
JHLD: Transphobia, liberal racism and the related slew of issues I faced became a dynamic I was clearly aware of, but couldn’t acknowledge at risk of seeming ‘complainy’ or further isolating the people who I had to spend 40+ hours of my week with. I felt the effects even more so given the ostensible ’cause’ and ‘purpose’ attached to the work I did. I reached a breaking point and decided I needed to take things in my own hands.
AM: I wanted her to reclaim that space before she left — it felt to me that she was being pushed out of a work environment that seemed less than humane around her experience as a trans woman.
AC: What was the shoot like?
AM: The first time we shot there was exhausting because my we got there late– maybe 11pm? That’s late for me to start working. My lighting assistant Mars was with us, and the three of us walked right through security loaded down with bags of Juliana’s clothing, possible “props” and my light kit.
AM: It was such a big deal downtown shiny corporate building. It really felt like we were getting away with something — like we were defiling this bland corporate space with our dirty artistic visions and beautiful clothing.
JHLD: To have him enter the workplace that I have a such a wounded attachment to is something profound for me. This space, which I associate with extreme feelings of discipline, internalized anxiety, doubt and fear, is transformed when I’m with Amos, who is able to create a space of solace and celebration for the parts of me that I would normally feel shamed away from displaying, exploring or performing there.
Ac: How did you two navigate “staging” each photo?
AM: Juliana did her own styling and costuming. She gave me a tour of the ACLU as soon as we got there, and I got to see the room options. We spoke briefly about each room, like, “okay this room would be incredible, look at these chairs!” or “how depressing” or “we definitely need to get you in the mail room.”
AC: Juliana, tell us a little about house of LaDosha.
JHLD: House of Ladosha is my family here. We support each other and uplift each other. There is of course cattiness, in-fighting and the occasional dramatic moment, but we all love each other and our work and lives are heavily influenced by the respective energies we put into the world. I spend Christmas and Thanksgiving and most holidays with the House, and they are who I turn to for advice, when I need to borrow money, etc. They represent the beauty of queerness in many ways, because we are each other’s family in the most real sense and I wouldn’t be able to really face the difficulty of the world If I didn’t have my sisters with me. I became a part of the family when I moved here on my own after graduating college. We bonded initially over dancing excessively, eating excessively and laughing excessively together – it’s been gravy since then.
AC: House of LaDosha is often talked about in relation to the film “Paris is Burning,” how do you see contemporary houses relating to that moment in history?
JHLD: The ballroom scene has grown in so many ways since that film, and I think the influence it had on all of us, largely as people moving from other parts of America, via our education, to New York, is a testament to the legacies and mythologies created by that community. I now call many of the current Labeija’s, for example, my cohorts and sisters in nightlife. It’s all a very complex, beautiful testament to the power of queer family and the power of queer cultural production.
AC: What is similar and different from defining a group of queers as a house, today, in a very assimilated queer popular culture?
JHLD: I think that the popular culture that might be called ‘queer’ really only relates to ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’, and ‘trans’ as static categories. The ballroom scene is still largely marginal in the wider context of American popular culture, especially the elements related to trans* and gender variant identities (realness categories as an example). New York operates on its own terms, the bits and pieces that get out into the larger culture may linger, but most are ephemeral moments of sensationalism (the obsession with trans people on talk television is another example of this). So while it is very different to be in the place I am in today, I’m ultimately still an alien to the rest of the country and world.
AC: How do you see this collaboration playing into your solo work?
JHLD: When I collaborate with my house, I usually support other house member by dancing for them and occasionally writing something for them, but our real collaboration is in the relationships themselves, even if that doesn’t translate into a literal body of work. With Amos, the collaborative nature of our relationship (friendship) becomes the basis for a body of working – making literal the bonds that might not otherwise be so clear. Working with Amos has been so essential to my growth. His presence online feeds the world a new set of queer and trans icons and examples. Much of my following discovered me through him and I am so grateful to him for that.
AM: I really loved photographing her and getting to know her during and after the shoot. We kept in touch and have regular dinners, which consist of gossip and pop cultural critiques around transphobia in the media and other fun topics. With both Zackary and Juliana, I reached out to them about collaborating and wasn’t close with either of them at first. Through this collaborative process I feel that it’s created a friendship and a bond that wasn’t there before. It’s also something very special that feels cemented in time. Years from now I can look back of these photos and remember these moments in our lives and artistic careers.
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