Shoog McDaniel — who published two photoessays of their work with us in 2019 — has taken my call between three photo shoots they’re doing despite shelter-in-place. A rural trans photographer living in Florida, McDaniel’s quarantine series experiments with multiple angles, Boomerang, and beauty under duress.
“I started this series because I was trying to figure out how to continue my photography practice in quarantine and a lot of photographers had started doing online shoots and thought I’d take a crack at it. I set up four cameras because it felt interesting to document the same moment in four different ways. And it’s fun to look at where things are glitching and things are lagging, just to show a little bit of depth to illustrate what is happening in the world right now. Maybe we’re not in real life together, but through the technology and mediums that we’re using, we can be brought together.”
McDaniel’s work has traditionally been straight photography, but with photo shoots being much harder, they’re experimenting more with video, “I’m playing around with movement.” Through multiple angles and the app Boomerang, they’ve been able to capture queers in motion and recreate an “almost 3D moment.” Their process is cyclical: “I’m somebody who really goes hard when they’re going, and right now I’m just creating work. I’m in the creation stage, and there will be a time where that slows down.” There’s plans for a potential zine, or to have the Boomerangs projected in a show, but McDaniel is in the creative stage.
The quarantine series focuses on the inner worlds of queers across the world through technology. “Allowing us to connect through the internet and making space for that is really empowering for rural queers, in this time specifically. You don’t have to be at a fancy party to be documented, and it evens the playing field for queers in a way. And it allows us a brief view into what’s happening in everyone’s little world. I think it’s taking on a disability justice lens for me as far as access. Anyone can have a photoshoot if you have a device that can connect to the internet. Of course that has to do with access of course, but it’s allowing me to connect with people I would never ever meet in person probably.”
As a teenager, McDaniel got into photography a bit by accident. “A friend of mine dumpster dove like fifty disposable cameras behind a Walgreens and I started taking pictures and realized that having a role in my friend group felt reassuring to me. I was always socially awkward and didn’t have many friends, and I was able to switch that and communicate through photos.”
McDaniel’s work pre-Covid-19 was centered on nature nudes, publishing the book Queers in Nature in 2015. Despite the long-distance shoots, that’s still something they’re able to feature the outdoors in new ways. “People are taking me outside, I took photos next to a breaking down farmhouse. Someone hit me up from rural Kentucky, and rural Australia. I’ve been in Brazil, and I just was able to go all these places I could never go before and create art with people I will probably never meet in person. It’s very shifting. There’s a big shift happening for me in understanding what is possible. We can use technology, even though it’s a blessing and a curse, to our advantage right now.”
From their paintings to their Boomerangs, McDaniel focuses on fat, queer, trans bodies, saying this choice, “very directly correlated to my positioning in society. I had a friend and we were in the woods and they started taking off all their clothes and said ‘take my picture’ and they were a fat person. I started taking photos and I realized how beautiful the fat body is. I was in the body positivity movement at the time but I hadn’t really addressed my own internalized fatphobia or the feelings I had towards my own body. From that day on, that has been my focus because of how much it has changed my life to be able to see other fat bodies and accept them and love them and see how beautiful they are. It’s led me to be able to love and accept my own body. I think that’s my lens is turned towards trans fat queer bodies because that’s who I am. It’s a reflection for sure.”
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A big thank you to @jupiterblack_ and @gemynii for hanging in there even though it was a warm night and making some art with me! It felt really intimate and special to be let into yalls personal space and document your closeness like this! Y’all should go follow these genius artists right now💕Forever in awe of the beauty of fat babes. I’ve decided to do some free fat group zoom photo shoots, the link to sign-up is in my story right now. More shoots to come! I love how this set kind of tells a story. Tell me a few adjectives that describe this shoot to you:::
McDaniel is also heavily inspired by the nature of their home state, Florida. “I moved to city for three years, I moved to Philadelphia and I had a successful dance party, I was a DJ alongside my really close friend.It was very fun and I got to feel like a superstar. I got to feel these feelings ‘this is what a city queer is supposed to do.’” They don’t resent the time at all, “I was exploring my gender identity. I became aware of the use of they/them, living in the rural south I had never heard of that before. It did something positive for me to be able to experience that. But eventually I realized the main things that were really really missing are the things I felt the most connected to which is the Florida wildlife.” They started getting tattoos of Florida wildlife and eventually they moved home, saying that they looked back at Philadelphia and smiled, so happy to be returning home. “I needed to go back and return and use the knowledge that I’ve gained. I learned a lot about my whiteness, my privilege, my gender stuff, and the possibilities. But I felt very out of place and the competition to be cool was extensive and harmful.”
“I think I’ll probably live in Florida forever. It feels really important to return to the place I’ve from to have a positive impact from the experience I’ve gained not just from living in a big city, but from being a rural queer and working with rural queers and learning ways connect despite being far away.” McDaniel’s day-to-day life doesn’t necessarily look that different in quarantine. “When I say I’m going out I’m going to walk in the woods, that’s my main jam. It’s a very grounding time for me in a lot of ways, I’m able to slow down and experience the freedom that I have as a rural queer.”
While their life hasn’t changed, their art sure has, making working with models much more collaborative. “It has to be collaborative in this moment, I need to be able to tell people how to position their phone and their computer to get the angles I like and lighting that needs to be set up. I get anxious that people will be annoyed with me, which is unique because normally I’m just moving around my model and moving my own body. I’ve gotten really good at explaining how I want people to move; it’s been a great lesson in communication. It’s way more involved on the model’s part than usual.”
McDaniel says some of the best moments have been when people they’ve posted on their Instagram come back and mention how much they’ve benefited, “I get a lot of feedback from people that my work is life changing. I believe it at this point. Before I was having a lot of doubt on my impact on the world, but I feel confident that this is what I’m supposed to do.”