Photographer Shoog McDaniel has a style unlike any other. Their gorgeous photos capture queer, trans, and fat bodies with a gaze that is equal parts gentle and fierce. Often shot in nature, rich greens and blues envelop subject and viewer alike, immersing you a moment of raw, honest truth.
Shoog’s work celebrates the depth and wholeness of both bodies of water and bodies of people who are marginalized and overlooked. Last month, GO chatted with Shoog to learn more about what inspires their work and what stories they want to tell next.
How do you identify?
I use they / them pronouns. Genderqueer. Transmasculine. Fat. Southern. Artist and photographer.
Where do you live / where are you from?
I have a very strong connection with Florida which is where I was born. I feel very connected to this region because it’s my bioregion. I know the trees and plants, and I understand the seasons. I feel really at home here. This is where I should be in terms of the work I’m doing. Lots of people move from their small southern towns to big metropolises. My impact is exponential if my home is a small southern town.
There are lot of assumptions about Florida. It’s true, a lot of fucked up things have happened here, like Trayvon Martin [who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in 2012]. The history here around race is extremely gruesome and evidence of white supremacy can been seen. But I think it’s very important to tell stories of people who are fighting against that, thriving amongst those intense conditions, and banding together to create community, uplift each other, and hold each other through hard times.
There are hundreds of natural springs here in Florida. People don’t really know about them. These natural springs are 70 degrees year round! They have manatees in them in the winter and are crystal clear. They’re amazing and so beautiful and aqua in color. Most folks think about Disney World or Miami Beach when thinking of Florida, but there is so much more. I’ve started realizing how lucky we are. That’s where I find the most richness in life – in a place where you have to fight the hardest to be yourself.
What’s it like being queer and trans in the South?
My experience in terms of being discriminated against because of my identity is much less than you would expect. But it’s more dangerous for trans women, specifically trans women of color. And I think that that’s a story that needs to be told. That’s where the struggle is and that’s where my allyship comes into play. That’s why I give money every month to southern trans women of color. That’s where our queer community needs to focus their money and attention, because that’s who is dying on a daily basis.
I don’t want to misrepresent myself by saying I struggle really hard to be here to make a better story. I know the places to avoid. I know if there’s a confederate flag somewhere on a store I don’t go there. I don’t go areas where there’s a large amount of white drunk men gathering. I’m very careful if I have other folks with me who are at more risk.
I’m a fat person and I don’t have many teeth in my mouth and I’m genderqueer, but I don’t think any of those things have set me back a huge amount. Because my work is specifically about uplifting other people doing the same work as me. I have a talent for photography and I’ve been able to use that and make my job accessible to me which is not something that everyone has the ability to do.
What do you do and why?
When taking photos of my friends, my favorite part is not looking at the finished photo, but actually showing people the picture and watching their faces light up. Showing people themselves in a new way and revealing a quality they may not have seen before. I really do my art as a way to show people themselves. And to tell stories.
I like to collaborate and have people give input on how it will look. I feel like my work is important not just because it’s a good time or makes people happy but because it’s shifting people’s ideas about their bodies and the world. I’ve had 70 year old grandmothers, as well as straight masc dudes write me and say ‘hey, you’ve changed my ideas about fatness and queerness and thank you for that.’ That is very impactful for me to hear.
What kind of stories are most important to you?
I did a book called “Queers and Nature” – it was my first book and it was self published. It was full of stories about the connections between queer people and nature. It’s about how free nature can be to flow and create its own patterns and spaces. And how people can also be free to be themselves in that way: to not be judged and co-opted and be ever changing and variable.
I wanted to tell that story because I felt it so strongly specifically returning to Florida from the Northeast. All the photos were taken in the South. In general I really am focused on fat bodies, queer bodies, trans bodies, and southern stories.
What do you consider the most pressing issue facing the LGBTQ community?
Work for transwomen of color. Transwomen don’t really get hired. So they don’t have any money. So then what happens? They do sex work. And then what happens? They get killed. There’s a pattern that happens like that over and over.
There’s a lot of networks, like the Trans Assistance Project, that are working to have money to be able to just give to people, but it’s not enough. The biggest issue is that trans women are dying at a rapid rate and we need to raise money for them so that they don’t have to struggle. If I give money, that’s where it goes.
Where does your work go from here?
Now I’m finishing up a new project: “Bodies Like Oceans.” It’s stories about fat bodies. Sometimes the photos are abstracted to show shapes and sometimes they’re viewed as a whole person. The fat body is a beautiful piece of art. It’s often seen as the opposite but our bodies contain some of the most gorgeous lines and shadows you’ll see. I’m interested in how bodies fit together – how they can press into each other and create different shapes.
I don’t want to self-publish. I am looking for an agent to help me get a book deal for a large size coffee table book. I also want to create a photo exhibit that wraps the walls in fat bodies that kind of connect together in a landscape. And I want to travel with book and that exhibit. I’m really excited about this possibility.
And if people want to support my work in general, they can donate to my Patreon and they can hire me for shoots – I travel often to photograph people. And they can buy prints and share my work!
How do you spend your time when you are not working?
I like to float down the river in a tube. I like to lay in a hammock. I like to do watercolor. I have an Instagram for my art too (@shoogsart). I play ukulele. I like to eat food with people. I really like watching the sunset. It’s part of my self care – it feels really peaceful and calming.