Photo by Etienne Frossard
Jess T. Dugan’s color portraits explore issues of identity—particularly gender and sexuality. Drawing from their experience as a queer, nonbinary person, Dugan uses photography to help understand and construct their own identity and to reveal the complex beauty and humanity of their subjects. They employ traditional photographic techniques—a medium-format camera, natural light, and a slow working method—and a selective use of light, color, gesture, and pose to imbue their portraits with emotional and psychological intensity.
Between 2013 and 2018, Dugan created To Survive on This Shore: Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Older Adults in collaboration with Dr. Vanessa Fabbre, a social work scholar. Their project documents the life stories of this underrepresented group and offers a poignant reflection on what it means to live authentically in the face of difficult challenges. Two portraits from the series are on view, accompanied by their subjects’ narratives.
The exhibition also features four portraits from Dugan’s ongoing project, Every Breath We Drew, begun in 2011. Encompassing individuals and couples, self-portraits, and still-life images, this body of work moves beyond depictions of gender and identity to investigate themes of connection and desire. Dugan empowers their subjects by collaborating with them on poses, gestures, and settings. The direct and intimate portraits that result are also records of the personal connection between photographer and subject, and this intimacy can be felt by the viewer.
Dugan suggests, “My work does not attempt to provide definitive answers; rather, it invites viewers to engage with others in an intimate, meaningful way, requiring them to reflect on their own identities in the process.” Empowering both subject and viewer, Dugan’s portraits and self-portraits encourage empathy and understanding, underscoring the importance not only of seeing but of being seen.
For more information on the artist, click here.