Thursday, December 30, 2010

Transcendence- Ace

A new photograph from Transcendence.  I really love this photograph and am so grateful to have had the opportunity to meet awesome people like Ace.

Ace, 2010

"My name is Ace.  I identify as male (female-to-male). I've been out in the community as male since I was 14 years old.  I knew who I was at 11 years old.  I was always looked at as the tough "lesbian" since I was little, but always referred to myself as queer/gay.

Being an FTM of color, people already give me the stereotype of a dark skin, bad behaving person, that has no morals. Even when I completely pass as a guy I am still looked down upon as someone of lesser value in certain places.  I have seen some people respect me more for being an FTM of color and others look at me like I am only doing it to try to pass as a male just to have power in society.

Facing many different challenges in my life has made me a stronger person today, and I wouldn't change anything.  Something people don’t know about me is that I can be a hopeless romantic, and I enjoy being a shoulder for others in need."  -Ace

Monday, December 27, 2010

Transcendence- Micah and Michelle

Two more new photographs from Transcendence:

Micah, 2010

Michelle and Micah, 2010

"Transcendence.  Being yourself in spite of the world. What does it mean for me that I have embraced my transgender identity? It means that I can now look at my body and all of its flaws with pride and a genuine smile. It means being able to look in the mirror and marvel at the way that my Creator God made me. It means that the world finally makes sense. It means that I can sit before you exposed knowing that you are looking at a 300 pound person without fear of judgment.  I can see me for the first time and not the weight. It means that you are finally seeing the real me. With each and every day that comes I am able to present more and more of who I really am to the world. And that is the beautiful miracle of me coming out to myself as transgender... I am no longer a foreigner living in a strange body but rather me living in a body that I reclaim and am now reshaping into who I was created in the flesh to be... A man created for the purpose of serving God."  -Micah

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Transcendence- Jesse

I have recently been making a lot of new photographs for Transcendence, shooting in color and collecting stories from my subjects.  I am only in the beginnings of this new part of the project, but I'm very excited about it.  Yesterday I got my first batch of color negatives back, and below is one of my favorite portraits of a wonderful person, Jesse.


"For years I thought that what I had been feeling inside would eventually dissipate.  I was afraid that I'd lose people.  I never really felt like a man or wanted to be a man, I just knew I wasn't a woman and I wanted to be comfortable with my body and for the dysphoria to go away.  I wished I could be comfortable being somewhere in between.  I longed to know what inner peace felt like.  Though I now look like a man, blending in in the world and never standing out, I still feel like I'm somewhere in between except now things finally feel right.  That's the only way that I know how to explain it.  My identity is ever-evolving.  Today, I am just a happy guy who happens to be trans and queer.  Ask me next week and it will likely have changed a bit." - Jesse

Sunday, December 19, 2010

New photos from Open View

Here are some new photos from Open View.  As you can see by the weather, it takes me a little while to edit and scan, so these photos are from late September, but I've been shooting regularly since then and will have more photos to post soon.

Puja preparing Cow for the fair
Puja and Cow
Dan and Kyla
The farmhouse at night
Skulls and skins

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sometimes it takes two years to make a picture

Judy, Curatorial Associate, Mammalogy, Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, 2010

I first met Judy two years ago.  As part of my museum studies program, I took a class called "Collections and Curation," which was taught by the Curator of Minerals at the Harvard Mineralogical Museum, Carl Francis.  As part of this class, we took a behind-the-scenes tour of the collections storage at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, where Judy works as, essentially, the keeper of the mammals.  Her title is much more formal, of course, but I came to learn that she has worked in the mammal department for the past 21 years and is clearly an integral part of the department.  She had set up all of these animals for our class to see, and she was standing behind a bench full of hides and skeletons, talking about her job and her interest in mammals.  She told wild stories of seeing a moose on the side of the road and making an impromptu decision to pull over, skin it, and load as much of it as possible into the back of her pickup truck, both to keep for the museum and to eat.  She explained all about how the museum gets new specimens, what she does with them once they arrive, and the kind of research that they're used for.  At one point, she held up a bat for us to see, one hand on either wing, stretching it out in front of our class before returning it to its little jar for safe keeping.

I was immediately taken with her.  Here was this incredible woman, so passionate and knowledgeable about mammals- I instantly wanted to photograph her.  I approached her after class and explained that I'm a photographer and asked to take her picture.  She was very nice and took my business card, but for one reason or another, we never got in touch after that.

Fast forward one year, by which point I had finished the museum studies program and was hired by the same curator mentioned above, Carl Francis, to photograph his collection of minerals, which placed me in the same building as Judy.  Long story short, I got to know her since I now worked in the same museum complex that she did, and after many, many months and multiple attempts to make a photo appointment, we finally got together last month and made the picture that has been on my mind since I met her that first day, over two years ago.

It turns out that Judy is an even cooler woman than I knew back then, and we have plans to take another photo of her with her horse, Seeya.  Sometimes, people and moments just stick in your mind, and you can't rest until you've captured them on film.  Even if it takes two years.

Monday, December 6, 2010

598 miles

598.  It's a good thing I like driving my little pickup, because that's how many miles I put on it this weekend.  I left Boston Thursday morning, heading west to Open View Farm to continue photographing as the weather turns colder and we are officially entering winter here in Massachusetts.  As always, being at the farm was a wonderful experience and I left with a bag full of exposed film.  It is interesting to look back at the photos I've made so far and see how much everything has changed.  I don't notice the changes so much from trip to trip, but looking back at the contact prints from the summer makes it drastically apparent how much things change season to season.  I photographed many of the daily farm activities, such as feeding animals and gathering sheep for worming, but I also took some photographs that I'm particularly excited about of Emmy and one of her neighbors making wreaths for a craft fair.  There were evergreen clippings everywhere and it smelled absolutely wonderful!  It excites me to include activities like this in the farm project, as it is about much more than the actual farm work.  It is about the sense of community that is both intentional and essential to living on a rural farm in Western Mass.  This sense of community is what drew me to the farm originally and what continues to make it a place I love.

On Saturday, I drove from Western Mass to a town right outside of New Haven, Connecticut to photograph a group of people for my trans project.  I am usually the one seeking out subjects for my project, but in this case, the subjects found me and asked to be included in my project (a huge thanks to Jesse for organizing the day!).  I am always looking for new people to photograph, so of course I said yes.  They took it upon themselves to organize an entire day of photo shoots and even made a huge pot of delicious chili for everyone to eat!  Most importantly, I had a great time getting to know 8 wonderful people.  I am truly humbled that I am invited into peoples' lives in this way and thankful for the opportunity to keep making my work.  Many of them told me how important they think my trans project is because it puts a positive and accessible face to an often marginalized and overlooked community, which I found very moving.  At the end of the day, this is the goal- to show trans and gender variant people to the world in a way that allows others to see and connect with who we are and to begin to bridge the gap of understanding.  It is also so important to me that the images resonate with other trans folks, and I'm honored that people find the images validating and are excited to be a part of the project.

I am very actively working on this project and will be showing my work at the First Event Conference this January in Peabody and also plan to attend the Trans Health Conference this June in Philadelphia.  I am interested in photographing anyone who identifies as transgender or gender variant as well as the providers that work with our community, such as surgeons and gender therapists.  If you are interested in being photographed for the project, or in hosting an artist talk or exhibition, please e-mail me at

After this amazing day of photo shoots, I drove back to Western Mass for my last night at the farm.  I went with Emmy, Puja, Violet, Jennieke (and the farm dog, Puppy!), to church on Sunday morning to photograph.  I am thankful to the church congregation for being so welcoming to the guest from the city lugging around a big tripod and camera.  I try to change my film while the choir is singing so nobody hears the click click click of the film advance lever, but I'm sure I still don't go completely unnoticed.  In the afternoon, I photographed Emmy choosing which sheep will go to slaughter next week before packing up my truck with far too many camera bags and a huge bag full of vegetables and heading home.  When I was unpacking my film holders last night, back in Boston, I was overcome with the smell of campfire coming from my photo bag, which left me with a huge smile.  I can't wait to see the new photos.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Interview on Two Way Lens and some other fun announcements

I am thrilled to have been interviewed by Michael Werner for his blog, Two Way Lens.  Michael has interviewed a variety of amazing photographers about their work and their careers and I'm honored to be included.  A huge thank-you to Michael for his interest in my work!

Cut, Healed, Mine: Processing Top Surgery now has a blog where you can see the work in the show and read about the artists.  The actual show is up through January at The Meeting Point in Boston for those who would like to see it in person.

I am also honored to have a photograph in Aline Smithson's Family Exhibition on Lenscratch, an absolutely wonderful blog that is always chock-full of work by interesting photographers.

Take a look at these three wonderful websites if you have a chance, and thanks to everyone for your support!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A thank-you note

Within the past week, I have had several experiences that have left me moved, inspired, and amazed at how photography acts as a means of connection and intimacy for me, in the most surprising ways.

Over the weekend, I did a photoshoot for The (Trans)Gender Series, and I can't wait to develop the film.  I have been working on this project for so many years that the amount of time I spend on it necessarily ebbs and flows.  This is partially due to the fact that I prefer to meet subjects in a more natural way than taking out an ad looking for trans or gender variant folks.  There are times when I have a long list of people to photograph and there are times when I don't, and I focus on other projects.  Recently, I've had a resurgence of opportunities to work on this project and to share the work with others.  Just this fall, I have had photos from The (Trans)Gender Series in 3 shows, which has led me to meet new people and hear their stories.  I have also been inspired by recent events such as hearing Ivan E. Coyote and S. Bear Bergman read, the I AM: Trans People Speak campaign that the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition released last week, the Cut, Healed, Mine show at The Meeting Point, and many other events and experiences.  I was recently contacted by someone expressing his interest in being photographed for this series, and he set up a photo shoot for me with 7 transguys!  I am very much looking forward to this shoot and am humbled by his interest and generosity of his time and energy.  

My favorite part about photography is that it connects me with people in a way that I would completely miss out on if I weren't photographing them.  I find myself hearing very personal stories and am humbled that people feel safe enough to share these stories with me.  I photographed someone this past week for A Place so as to Stay, and because she had seen the photograph of myself and my mom on my website, we got into a very personal conversation about my journey as well as recent struggles she had been going through.  I found this experience particularly moving because we hardly knew each other prior to the shoot, and the photo I had asked to take of her wasn't about gender or  surgery in any way.  I was reminded that by putting myself out there, I am opening up a door for other people to put themselves out there in an equally intimate way.  I was still reeling from this wonderful experience when I got two e-mails from people I have never met before, asking me about my experience with chest surgery and thanking me for making my work, telling me it helped inspire them to be who they are.  This kind of feedback is what I live for, why I make my work, why I find photography so compelling.  It connects me with people, and them with me, and hopefully with others, in a way that is unique to this particular form of expression.  It has the power to start dialogue and to change minds and hearts.  

Sometimes I get so focused on things like balancing exhibition deadlines, scheduling photo shoots, and making time to work in the darkroom that I need these sorts of intimate experiences to cause me to take a step back from the practicality of it all and remind me why I do what I do.  While most of my writing and talking about my work emphasizes the exciting parts of being a photographer, like meeting amazing people and having exhibitions, there are also times when it feels hard, both to be a genderqueer person in a binary society and to be trying to positively affect the world through photography.  

So thank you to everyone who has so generously sat for a photograph, to everyone who has shared their life with me, and to everyone who has written or told me such kind words about my work.  I appreciate it all more than you know.  

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A few new photos

Here are a few new photos from A Place so as to Stay.  In all honesty, I took them in July/August but am just now getting them scanned and online.  I especially love the photograph of Amiee, the wonderful piercer in Provincetown.  I showed up one sleepy Sunday morning in August to take her photo, and while I was waiting for her to finish a piercing, I met Stephen (below) and found him too beautiful to not photograph.  I love chance meetings like that. 

Amiee in her piercing shop, 2010

 Stephen, 2010

Wishing, 2010

Angela, Volunteer at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, 2010

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Photos from Cut, Healed, Mine

The opening of Cut, Healed, Mine: Processing Top Surgery was a wonderful and moving experience.  I am so honored to have work in this important show and to be a part of an amazing queer community here in Boston.  A huge thanks goes to Taan Shapiro for organizing the show and to AndreA of The Meeting Point for giving space for the show to be hung there.

This week has been full of inspiration.  Within a matter of a few days, I was lucky enough to attend this fabulous opening as well as the Dangerous Mammals Tour: Please don't feed or tease the animals, where Ivan Coyote and S. Bear Bergman read their amazing, honest, gut-wrenching writing.  I am so thankful to have a community of my people around me and to have the opportunity to be inspired by the creative work of others in a way that fuels me forward with my own work and in my own life.

I am proud to be queer.  I am proud to be butch.  I am proud to be an artist.  And, I'm proud of my history, of all of the butches and queers who have come before me and paved the way for me to be who I am.  For them, I wear a tattooed star on my left wrist, a reminder of the power and strength of solidarity and the monumental fight it took to begin to pave the way for the younger generation of queers such as myself.  Thank you, gender warriors, past and present, for being true to yourselves and for fighting right alongside me.  You are my people.

Below are some photos from the opening of Cut, Healed, Mine:

Me and Taan, the show's organizer

Mycroft and me

Alex and me

Me and Elizabeth

The crowd listening to the artists speak

My photograph Corinne and Travis

Untitled by Caden Muekiner

Drains on Taan by Laura Evonne Steinman (top) and 
Xander by Haeden Roswell Peaslee (bottom) 

Healing Taan by Laura Evonne Steinman

My photographs Self-portrait with mom (left) and Calvin (right)

Me with my work

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Archive: The Journal of the Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation

I am thrilled that my image Julee in Drag is featured in an article about the 2010 Great LGBTQ Photo Show in The Archive: The Journal of the Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation.  The author, Enrico Gomez, wrote:

"The gender focus took on a playful edge in Julee in Drag by Jess T. Dugan.  A part of Dugan's (Trans)Gender Series, drag king Julee squints into the camera, mustachioed and James Dean like, oozing a restrained swagger.  From the artist's blog, photographer Dugan shares 'gender sometimes seems to me as a uniform, something malleable.  The pictures of drag kings also sometimes seem that way: a hyper-caricaturized masculinity that individuals can put on and take off.'"

I am especially fond of the phrase "oozing a restrained swagger."  I had never thought about it quite that way before, but I think it is an accurate description of Julee in this particular photograph.

Thanks to the Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation for putting on such an amazing show and for publishing such an amazing journal!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Lots going on

Whew, it's been a busy few weeks!  I spent the weekend photographing at Open View Farm, which was absolutely wonderful.  It's hard to believe that I'm 6 months into the project.  Every trip yields new portraits that I'm so excited about, and the project continues to grow and get more complex.  I'm going to work on getting everything scanned in the next week, so expect some new photos here shortly!

Another aspect of the project that I have been really enjoying is making audio interviews with everyone who lives or works on the farm.  This past weekend, I made new audio interviews with Dan and Kyla, two farmers and all around cool people.  I am so inspired by hearing their stories of what led them to farming and the political and social implications of their decisions.  Choosing to live a life where the goal is simultaneously living self-sufficiently and fostering an intentional community is a very political and unique choice.  Interviewing them gave me a chance to ask questions about these choices and get to understand their lives further.  I don't yet know when or how I'll share the information from these interviews, but I know they're going to be an integral part of the work.  Every time I visit, I make one or two new interviews, and am looking forward to continuing to capture the oral history of the farm as well as making pictures of the ever-changing people, animals, and landscape.

Here are a few snapshots from the visit:

Violet playing in the leaves 

Lovebug the Ram 

The sun coming through the beautiful morning clouds 
(don't worry- I made a few pictures of this gorgeous light with my 4 x 5, too)

Yesterday I had the privilege of hearing Dawoud Bey speak at MassArt, which was one of the most moving and inspiring lectures I've ever been to.  I admire his work and approach to art making so much and feel very grateful that this wonderful photographer came to Boston.  I feel absolutely high with inspiration and re-invigorated and excited by having heard him speak and seeing his compelling, intimate, important photographs.  You can see more of his work here.

Last week, I joined photographer Robert Siegelman at the Simmons College Graduate School of Social work, where we both had work on display in honor of National Coming Out Day, to give an artists talk.  I was showing eight photographs from The (Trans)Gender Series, one of my earliest projects.  Given my comfort level with the subject, I tend to forget that it can still be viewed as edgy or radical, even in Boston.  Robert's work deals with issues of gay male identity (and even, gasp, shows a penis or two) and apparently our work caused quite a stir during the month that it was on display.  I think we were both quite surprised to show up for the artists talk and hear about all of the buzz the show had caused.  In fact, the curators chose to put up a bulletin board for comments to provide an outlet for all of the comments they had been overhearing.  One person wrote, "I was shocked!  That's for sure," and another wrote, "Very graphic!  Not for families!"  The latter comment caused someone else to respond in defense of how the show could actually be very good for families and to question what constitutes a family in the first place.  One comment that I especially liked read, "These pictures are frank, bold, strong, and could be offensive.  But sometimes in life we need a mild form of offending to challenge our thought process and help mold our views!  In a nutshell, I LOVE THEM!!!"

I am very interested at the use of the words "offensive" and "shocking."  I would argue that both Robert's work and my own is very loving, present, and beautiful.  While I recognize that queer identities can be shocking to people who aren't familiar with them, I don't feel that our work aims to be shocking in its presentation or approach to the subject matter.  I certainly don't aim for shock value, but rather for openness and accessibility.  I was thrilled to see this kind of dialogue beginning and hope that it continues after the show comes down.

I'll post a few photos of the work, as well as a photo of the comment board, below.  I was honored to be part of that show and pleasantly surprised that queer work can still cause a ruffle, even among a bunch of Simmons social work grad students.

The comment board 

Rob's work

Rob's work

Rob's work

Rob's work 

 My work

Installation view of my work 

 Melsen, 2007

And lastly, I'm looking forward to having three photos from the same series on display at The Meeting Point in Jamaica Plain as part of the show Cut, Healed, Mine: Processing Top Surgery.  There will be an opening this Saturday, November 6 at 7 p.m., and the show will be on display through the end of 2010.  If you  have a chance, stop by and see it!  The following 3 photos will be on display:

 Self-portrait with mom, 2005

Corinne and Travis, 2006

Calvin, 2008

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dawoud Bey Lecture TODAY at MassArt

I am very much looking forward to this lecture today!  I admire Dawoud Bey a great deal and his work is a huge inspiration to me.

Dawoud Bey Lecture
MassArt Tower Auditorium
Tuesday, November 1
2 p.m.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Interview with Steve Tourlentes

In honor of Steve's work being on exhibit at the ICA, I am re-posting an interview I did with him in 2008, originally published on Big, Red, & Shiny.  More of Steve's work can be seen on his website.

Carson City, NV, Death House, 2002

Steve Tourlentes is a graduate of Knox College and Massachusetts College of Art, where he earned an MFA in 1988. Since 1996, Tourlentes has been photographing rural and suburban landscapes where penitentiaries are constructed, seen only by the bright light they emit at night. He is a recipient of grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the Polaroid Corporation, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Jess T. Dugan: What is your background in the arts, and how did you come to photography?

Steve Tourlentes: My parents were very involved in the arts while I was growing up. My father always took pictures and set up a small darkroom in our house when I was a teenager. I studied art while an undergraduate at Knox College in Galesburg, IL. After graduation I moved to Boston with some friends and played in a band for several years. Clearly the music career was not happening, so I enrolled in the MFA program at Massachusetts College of Art.

JTD: Let’s talk about your photographs of prisons. How did you begin to photograph prisons?

ST: The State of Illinois built a new medium security prison in my hometown in the late 1980’s to replace a large state mental hospital that my father had been superintendent of during the 1960’s. In a town that was in economic decline it was unusual to see these new bright lights illuminating the horizon that had once just been cornfields. There had been talk of building a prison before but the local community was always against it. When the hospital was closed and jobs were lost the prison plan became much more palpable based on people needing jobs. I made one image on a visit home that haunted me for several years. It’s not even a good image but there was an undercurrent that kept pulling me back in. It was through this image that I began to notice other new prisons sprouting up in rural areas and I began to research what was happening. At first, it was simply on a visual level but as I learned more about the prison system in this country I became obsessed.

JTD: Your images have received some attention recently, including the Massachusetts Cultural Council grant in 2007 and several exhibitions. What are your plans for this work, and are you working on anything specific right now?

ST: I have been very fortunate, without a Guggenheim Foundation grant and the Massachusetts Cultural Council grants much of this would not have happened. Ultimately, I would like to see this as a book; my efforts with this project are shifting in that direction.

JTD: What specifically is it about photographing prisons at night that you are attracted to?

ST: There is a separation that occurs when night falls and a prison becomes an optical presence in the landscape. In the darkness they make a defiant stance against the landscape surrounding it. They radiate light back into the landscape like an artificial sun. During the day the architecture and the perimeters are clearly demarcated; but in the darkness the visual boundaries extend beyond the walls. They become the light source that illuminates the visible landscape.

JTD: Do you research prisons before you go, and do you choose them for specific reasons? Once you are there, how long does it take you to scope out your location and set up your shot?

ST: Lot’s of traveling, and lot’s of research prior to each trip. The unfortunate circumstance of this project is the realization that there is a huge prison industry that has exploded in size over the last 25 years. I had some fantasy that I would have an image from every prison in the country but I there are too many to photograph all of them. Once I find a prison to photograph there is a lot of surveying the location to find the right angle. Technology has made it easier, and Google Earth is very helpful in scouting out the prison and it’s surroundings. I’m rather methodical and I’m not always welcomed by the authorities, it takes me forever and I always feel bad if someone has accompanied me and has to sit through my decision making process.

JTD: Looking at one of your photographs purely as an image, it is full of photographically appealing tones and lights. However, when you consider what is inside the perimeter of the lights, society has rejected, and is therefore, unappealing. Is this dichotomy between photographic beauty and the social reality something you intentionally employ, and if so, what kind of meaning do you hope it creates in your work?

ST: Beauty can subvert and hold our attention even if the subject is quite abject. Goya’s Disasters of War comes to mind as well as Warhol’s electric chair prints. For some these images might help them to consider something that they might normally find easy to ignore by the light of day. I hope the work helps to create a dialogue about why these places exist in such large numbers in the US.

JTD: The prison system in America is rapidly growing, primarily for economic reasons. Do you delve into the specific politics of prisons in America, or do you like to present the issue and let the viewer interpret it, as they will?

ST: The images make visible my critique of the growing prison industry. I see these mega institutions as examples of general failures in our society. That being said it is important to provide a basis for why this system is failing us. When I present the work, I provide background information to prevent there being too much ambiguity as to where I stand.

JTD: You generally photograph prisons from a distance- what is it about the prison as part of a larger landscape that interests you?

ST: Photographing the landscape has always been an interest of mine; with these images the prison itself becomes the connection to the different locations. The landscape is what changes while the architecture of the prisons functions essentially the same way it has for over 100 years. Searching out these sites has taken me to places in this country I never imagined I would travel to.

JTD: In some of your photographs, the prison closely borders a neighborhood or suburban area? What importance does this have for you, and what statement are you trying to make by showing this juxtaposition?

ST: The notion of physical and conceptual boundaries (as well as time) is inherent to prison culture. In some ways I look at this collection of images as metaphorical atlas of the U.S. It is the borders and the laws of particular states that determine the judicial response if incarceration is the verdict of the courts. I’ve found many strange juxtapositions of someone’s backyard looking directly onto a prison or new housing developments being built across the street from a maximum-security prison. In these circumstances it’s very clear the community that hosts these institutions have formed a complex symbiotic relationship.

JTD: Have you ever shown your work to officials within the prison system? If so, what has their reaction been?

ST: Yes, sometimes when I need permission I meet with prison officials or wardens. Most have been very positive about the images. Once I showed a warden in Louisiana a photo of a prison in California and he said I could photograph his prison if I made it look as good as the image of the California prison.

JTD: I have personally heard some funny stories from you about your strange encounters while photographing at night- could you tell us about your most interesting experience?

ST: There have been all sorts of interesting moments- I’ve been hassled by guards and the police, photographed in blizzards and lightening storms. Once, I was in Chula Vista, California on the US/Mexico border taking a picture without permission in the no-man’s land surrounding the state prison. Suddenly all hell broke loose, men on ATV’s with night vision and bright spotlights came out of nowhere… it was very X-Files. I thought they were after me but they shot right past me and about 100 yards away they stopped a group of people using the prison grounds to cross over the border from Mexico. They never even bothered with me… maybe they assumed with the big camera and tripod I was someone official.

JTD: Do you see yourself continuing this work indefinitely, or do you feel you will reach a point when the project is finished?

ST: I’m in the latter stages of the project now. There are a few more prisons that I need to photograph and then spend more time on my other projects. The scary thing for me is how immense the prison system has become, these pictures really only scratch the surface.

JTD: Do you think of your work as political?

ST: Absolutely, I feel the burgeoning prison system in this country reflects back on the society that builds them. You know we lock up more people than any other country in the world. I think the lack of funding for education, health care and an unwillingness to invest in our own citizens has resulted in a reactionary policy of prison building to help politicians get re-elected. Our thirst for punishment and prisons has created a profit based private prison industry that you can buy stock in. If you look at the demographics of the U.S. prison population it is predominately male, undereducated and poor. There are estimates that over 25% of those incarcerated are mentally ill prior to entering the system.

JTD: Have you ever been interested in going inside a prison to photograph, or of making portraits of prison inmates?

ST: There is large archive of photographers who have worked inside prisons all over this country. For me I felt I didn’t have anything new to add. Initially I did go inside to see if I wanted to make work of inmates or the interior architecture of the prison but the location and the world surrounding the prison felt more interesting to me visually. I guess I’m attempting to connect the outside world with these institutions. Looking from a distance at a place that is so highly serveilled becomes an investigation of the psychological as well as the physical boundaries. To me it becomes a form of visual feedback or echo.

Holliday Unit, Huntsville, TX, 2001

Interview with Steve Tourlentes on WGBH

Photographer Steve Tourlentes has an incredible body of work focusing on the prison industrial complex in America.  His work is remarkable and currently on display at the ICA in Boston as part of the Foster Prize exhibition.  Steve is interviewed about his work by WGBH.  Take a listen here.

Wyoming State Death House, 2000 by Steve Tourlentes

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Artist Talk at Simmons: Today!

Self-portrait with mom, 2005

I am looking forward to giving an artist talk this afternoon with Robert Siegelman at the Simmons Graduate School of Social Work.  Robert and I have had work on exhibit for the month of October in honor of National Coming Out Day.  Eight photographs from The (Trans)Gender Series are on display along with Robert's work, which I admire very much.  If you're in the area, come by!

Artist Talk with Jess T. Dugan and Robert Siegelman
October 26, 2010
4:30 p.m.

Simmons Graduate School of Social Work
1 Palace Road, 4th Floor
Boston, MA