jess t. dugan

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Every breath we drew explores the power of identity, desire, and connection through portraits of myself and others.  Working within the framework of queer experience and from my actively constructed sense of masculinity, my portraits examine the intersection between private, individual identity and the search for intimate connection with others.  I photograph people in their homes, often in their bedrooms, using medium and large format cameras to create a deep, sustained engagement, resulting in an intimate and detailed portrait.

I combine formal portraits, images of couples, self-portraits, and photographs of my own romantic relationship to investigate broader themes of identity and connection while also speaking to my private, individual experience.  The photographs of men and masculine individuals act as a kind of mirror; they depict the type of gentle masculinity I am attracted to, yet also the kind I want to embody.  Similarly, the photographs of relationships speak to a drive to be seen, understood, and desired through the eyes of a another person; a reflection of the self as the ultimate intimate connection.

By asking others to be vulnerable with me through the act of being photographed, I am laying claim to what I find beautiful and powerful while asking larger questions about how identity is formed, desire is expressed, and intimate connection is sought.


Jess T. Dugan is an artist whose work explores issues of gender, sexuality, identity, and community. Dugan holds an MFA in Photography from Columbia College Chicago, a Master of Liberal Arts in Museum Studies from Harvard University, and a BFA in Photography from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

Dugan’s work has been exhibited internationally at the San Diego Museum of Art, the Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College, the Catherine Edelman Gallery, the Grey House Gallery in Krakow, Poland, the Griffin Museum of Photography, Gallery Kayafas, Carroll and Sons Gallery, the Leslie/Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, and at many colleges and universities nationwide.

Dugan’s photographs have been featured in the New York Times, CNN, The Advocate, Slate, The Huffington Post, and the Boston Globe.

Her photographs are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Harvard Art Museums, the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College, the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, the DePaul Art Museum, Fidelity Investments, JP Morgan Chase, and the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction.  Her work is also included in the Midwest Photographer’s Project at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, IL.  


Coinciding with her exhibition at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Dugan’s first monograph Every breath we drew was published in 2015 by Daylight Books. Dugan is the recipient of a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant and was selected by the White House as a 2015 Champion of Change.


JOIN US FOR THE OPENING OF (SIGNAL)!

Smack Mellon  

92 Plymouth Street  Brooklyn, NY

March 5, 2016  6 – 8 pm


Exhibition Dates: March 5 – April 17, 2016

Participating Artists: Jess T. Dugan, Anahita Ghazvinizadeh, Nicki Green, Rhys Ernst & Zackary Drucker, Young Joon Kwak, Carlos Motta, Cobi Moules, Chelsea Thompto, Gil Yefman, Rona Yefman

(SIGNAL), curated by Alexis Heller, opens at Smack Mellon on March 5 and will be on view through April 17, 2016. This exhibition presents artworks that challenge the gender binary and explore a continuum of self-definition. Working in diverse mediums, these eleven contemporary artists utilize code, collaborative representation, fantasy and play to subvert histories that have denied gender variance. They question authorship over ‘the natural’, make manifest sites of resistance, and reimagine a future where identities are fluid, becoming ad infinitum and celebrated as such.

(SIGNAL), written in a binary code created by Chelsea Thompto, begins communication around what happens when the gender binary becomes illegible. In the absence of fixed gender markers, where can we start to understand each other and how do we make ourselves known?  The code, and works in dialogue as part of (SIGNAL), resists the ability to take a ‘quick read’ and requires a more complex process of discovery.  By engaging history, acts of defiance, real experiences of violence, and imagination, a more nuanced language of gender possibility emerges.

Nicki Green, Cobi Moules and Gil Yefman renegotiate the past’s treatment of transgender bodies by mining cultural, artistic and religious traditions and symbols and recalibrating them to highlight empowered narratives.  Nicki Green’s ceramic vessels and quilted hankies picture androgyny and transformation as divine, with imagery from Jewish mythology and queer code. Paintings from Cobi Moules’ series Bois Just Wanna Have Fun, portray self-portraits of the artist in multiples, playing in stunning wild landscapes. The works significantly integrate his trans body in the natural, a response to the ideologies of his conservative Christian upbringing and the Hudson River School. Gil Yefman also shifts cultural messages about androgyny, with his large knitted sculpture, sound piece and performance, Tumtum. Translated in Jewish law and modern Hebrew to mean ‘unclean’ or ‘stupid’, Yefman instead presents a corporeal being that is at once monstrous and magnetic.

Jess T. Dugan, Rona Yefman, Carlos Motta, and Chelsea Thompto explore active resistance to gender norms and moments of solidarity and brutality faced as a result. Jess T. Dugan’s intimate portraits redefining masculinity reflect on how connections with others help us author our own identity. In her multimedia project spanning 14 years, Rona Yefman documents her brother Gil’s transition, from male to female and then beyond gender, and their fantastical relationship that helped bolster their survival. Carlos Motta’s video portraits of transgender and intersex activists expose the powerful organizing, advocacy, and education efforts of gender self-determining communities and the perilous conditions that make their work vital. Chelsea Thompto’s expansive piece, Trans Effigy 2015, comprises code written in charcoal on the wall, along with wooden sculptures. Given a key to decipher it’s meaning, viewers are engaged in a slow dialogue around deconstructing the gender binary, how we relate to others’/othered bodies, and violence.

Anahita Ghazvinizadeh, Young Joon Kwak, and Rhys Ernst and Zackary Drucker envision worlds where identities and everyday systems are slippery.  In her short film, When the Kid was a Kid, Anahita Ghazvinizadeh looks at the flux of children’s gender performance and cultural expectations, through a role-playing game set in Tehran. Young Joon Kwak destabilizes held constructs with her reimaging of the icon of feminine beauty, Venus.  Her Venus is reborn formless and without discernible identities, opening space for boundless new interpretations of personhood and desire.  Rhys Ernst and Zackary Drucker coalesce transgender histories, time and space in their film She Gone Rogue, in an interrogation of our ever shifting bodies and selves and the deep value of intergenerational wisdom and chosen families.

The artworks in this show, much like gender itself, present layered, complicated, and often playful ideas about embodiment. (SIGNAL) enters an ongoing conversation on the failures of the gender binary and what is reclaimed, endured and gained in the move to live beyond it.  

SCHEDULED EVENTS:

Gil Yefman performs Tumtum during the opening on Saturday, March 5, 7pm

Maya Ciarrocchi and Kris Grey perform GENDER/POWER - Sunday, April 3, 2-3pm

Screening of Mike and Claire’s Perform, and performance by Aurel Haize Odogbo - Saturday, April 16, 5-8pm

Rona Yefman – Artist in conversation about her multimedia project My Brother and I. “Let It Bleed” book signing to follow - Saturday, April 16, 5-8pm

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The History of the Trans Community as Told by Its Aging Members

Friday is Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day that honors those whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence. For many people who identify as trans, coming out is a rite of passage filled with a mix of fear and euphoria, though the history of this community has not always been fully visible.  

Jess T. Dugan came up with the idea for the project “To Survive on This Shore,” a collection of portraits of the aging transgender community, when she met her partner Vanessa Fabbre, an assistant professor at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, in 2012. Fabbre received her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago; her dissertation, Gender Transitions in Later Life, explored issues of gender, identity, and aging.

(Continue Reading)

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Jess T. Dugan. Every Breath We Drew

Jet, 2013.

Herb, 2013.

Vanessa, 2013.

Connor, 2012.

Betsy, 2013.

Jess and Korrie, 2012.

Every breath we drew (2011- )                                                                  

Every breath we drew explores the power of identity, desire, and connection through portraits of myself and others.  Working within the framework of queer experience and from my actively constructed sense of masculinity, my portraits examine the intersection between private, individual identity and the search for intimate connection with others.  I photograph people in their homes, often in their bedrooms, using medium and large format cameras to create a deep, sustained engagement, resulting in an intimate and detailed portrait.

I combine formal portraits, images of couples, self-portraits, and photographs of my own romantic relationship to investigate broader themes of identity and connection while also speaking to my private, individual experience.  The photographs of men and masculine individuals act as a kind of mirror; they depict the type of gentle masculinity I am attracted to, yet also the kind I want to embody.  Similarly, the photographs of relationships speak to a drive to be seen, understood, and desired through the eyes of a another person; a reflection of the self as the ultimate intimate connection.

By asking others to be vulnerable with me through the act of being photographed, I am laying claim to what I find beautiful and powerful while asking larger questions about how identity is formed, desire is expressed, and intimate connection is sought.

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Jess T. Dugan. Transcendence I, 2005-2010.

Corinne and Travis, 2006.

Ryan and Alex, 2006.

Melsen, 2007.

Nate, 2009.

Amanda, 2006.

Elena, 2006.

Amy in the rain, 2006.

Fighter (self-portrait), 2006.

Transcendence (2005-2012)                                                                      

In our society, it is assumed that there are only two genders, both of which come with very specific expectations and roles.  I aim to challenge that assumption by portraying people whose identity falls outside of these preconceived notions.  Transcendence is a collection of portraits within the transgender and gender variant community.  These photographs show that there are an endless number of gender identities, specific to each person, while illustrating that gender identity and biological sex are two distinct constructs.  More broadly, they call into question societal expectations about gender roles and how these expectations affect everyone, including those who are not a part of the transgender community.

Through sharing individual experiences, this work honestly and openly portrays a community that is often overlooked, fetishized, or misrepresented.  It raises a dialogue about the fluidity of gender and the ways in which our current societal structure does not allow for variations outside of the mainstream.  In an effort to increase understanding, these images portray issues unique to the transgender community while also highlighting the shared experience of being human. 

Susanna and Scout, from Jess T. Dugan’s Coupled:

Coupled is a series of twenty large-format Polaroid photographs of queer couples, taken between 2006 and 2008. Every person has some connection to a female identity, whether past or present. The images are direct and posed, with the same lighting and bold, red background in each image in an attempt to direct the focus entirely onto the subject. The couples are simultaneously unique and similar, becoming almost specimens of a cultural group through repetition of composition. While the images portray a specific group of couples at a historic time, they also raise universal questions about attraction, love, and the nature of relationships.