Alphabet of Light, #18, by Kirsten Rian (Jess Dugan)
Photograph by Jess Dugan
Eye to Eye
“I am attempting to address my own relationship to intimacy, to identity, to desire, to family, to community- and there is a point at which photography can allude to, but not fully describe, these relationships. However, the medium’s failure can also be its strength, as it allows room for interpretation and for an experience of the work driven by emotion,” Jess Dugan tells me in a recent interview. Dugan is a Juror’s Pick winner in Daylight Magazine’s 2012 photo contest for her project Every Breath We Drew.
Collaborating with intellect and emotion; with subject and self; with exterior and interior aspects of one’s body; and with photography’s strengths as well as its deficits, all require a certain flexibility and creative humbleness that Dugan embodies. Her images are unpretentious yet not weak. They are direct, honest, and utterly present.
The process of becoming oneself and owning all aspects of DNA and familial history that contribute to our physicalness as well as psyche, combined with exiling the cultural and social narratives we reject, is a lifetime project we each embark on every waking minute of our lives. Dugan’s images resonate like a flag plunged in the soil of each day, stating, ‘I’m here, do I like who I am and what I’m doing with my life, and now what am I going to do about it.’
In one self-portrait image, Dugan is in the tub. Well-composed lines intersect at vanishing points in the center. Shades of white from tile, tub, and skin mingle, and Dugan’s expression is clear, straight-on, unflinching. Portraits of others are also included in the project and the combination of expressions and gestures creates a powerful landscape of photographs that feel like a glimpse at clarity, shared one face at a time, eye to eye.
“By asking others to be vulnerable and intimate with me through the act of being photographed, I am laying claim to my own desires and defining what I find beautiful and powerful while asking larger questions about how identity is formed, desire is expressed, and intimate connection is sought,” Dugan says.
A meaningful portrait, such as the ones Dugan makes, reflects that blooming space between the subject and the photographer, that caught moment of interaction where some fragment of self is fused with another. Something hidden is revealed, even if in just a glance. What was intangible, becomes available in the content of the image, a confession of visibility.
“This project, in many ways, was a natural evolution of my photographic practice. For the past 8 years, my work has explored issues of gender, sexuality, and community.This work grew immediately out of my project Transcendence, in which I was making intimate portraits of people within the transgender and gender variant communities. However, along the way, my interests shifted from being specifically about gender to being more about intimacy, connection, desire, and relationships. As always, my work is highly connected to my personal life. After making work that dealt so specifically with gender and with my own transgender identity, I was ready to begin making work about other aspects of my life, as well,” Dugan shares.
David Bram, of Fraction Magazine, was the juror who selected Dugan’s work as the Juror’s Pick. Of her work he says, “Jess Dugan's photographs are moving and honest and feel like something brand new. She will definitely leave her mark on the world of fine art photography.”
In our conversation, Dugan continues, “I am always evaluating my own thoughts, emotions, and instincts--using my photographs as a way to understand who I am and what I am attracted to, as well as my own struggles and challenges. There are moments when I have to look directly at my own shortcomings, fears, and struggles, and this can of course be challenging. There are also moments when I feel like I have communicated exactly what I am feeling or trying to say, which is exceptionally rewarding.”
A crow was electrocuted and fell off the telephone wire in front of my house last week. I watched this huge bird limp about my garden bed, dragging along its badly broken wing. He stopped, sat there in the dirt, and looked up at me. Blinked. Watched me. Blinked. Its black eyes, black feathers, sharp black beak borrowed light and glistened. My family and I caught him in a towel, placed him in a box, and brought him to the animal hospital. But it was those eyes, those eyes held content, and I think about those eyes when I look at Dugan’s portraits. They stay with me.
To view more of Dugan’s work, visit: http://www.jessdugan.com/ShareThis