Friday, February 26, 2010

PDA at the ICA

I had been looking forward to being a part of TT Baum and Michael Grohall's performance from The Wedlock Project all week. Despite the terrible weather, I made my way to the ICA last night to participate in a (P)ublic (D)isplay of (A)cceptance. My straight counterpart? Arlette Kayafas, owner of Gallery Kayafas, and a dear friend of mine.

We learned a few things. One, that it is incredibly difficult to look at art while tethered to someone else. It didn't dawn on either of us until we actually entered the galleries just how individual an experience art-viewing usually is. We had to negotiate how close to get to a particular piece, whether to go left or right first, when to move on from a particular image or gallery. As much as it was an exploration into being visibly queer (or not) and the acceptance/validation that comes from that, it was also fascinating to be in a space meant for solitary viewing and attempting to keep pace with another art viewer. I'll have to go back to really look at the work on display.

I also learned, personally, that it is incredibly validating to have participated in the PDA. I am a very out, queer person, but I was surprised to feel my caution and reservation to ask a straight person to participate in this with me. And actually, I didn't ask. Arlette was so excited to participate she said "we're going- you're my date!" I am grateful for her support and enthusiasm, both of my work and of me as a person.

I found the entire experience moving and exciting. As a photographer, much of my work is made alone, or with one other person: my subject. It is thrilling for me to engage in art that is larger than one person and is as public as the PDA. I can't wait to see what is yet to come from TT and Michael, and to wholeheartedly be a part of it.

Below are some photos from the event:

Jess T. Dugan and Arlette Kayafas

Arlette Kayafas, TT Baum, and Michael Grohall

TT Baum and Jess T. Dugan

Participants viewing work in the galleries

Participants viewing work in the galleries

Participants viewing work in the galleries

Artist TT Baum (right) and his guest in the galleries

Artists Janet Hansen Kawada and Luanne E. Witkowski viewing the work

The entire group being photographed by Christian Holland of Big, Red, & Shiny

Thursday, February 25, 2010

PDA at the ICA (Tonight!!!)

Hey all-

I am super excited to participate in The Wedlock Project's third installment of their PDA (Public Displays of Acceptance) performance tonight at the ICA.

If you're gay/lesbian/queer identified, bring a straight partner of the same sex.
If you're straight, bring a gay/lesbian/queer partner of the opposite sex.

Please join me!

Get ready for PDA #3 at:
Check-in from 630PM – 7PM at the WATER CAFE… (first floor of the ICA).
A partner of the same-sex
Your enthusiasm.
From 7PM – 8PM we will be roaming about looking at the Roni Horn Show.. and performing Public Displays Of Affection (Acceptance).
Feel free to interact with other PDA participants..
If you know of ANYONE who would like to join us – IT’S NOT TOO LATE - tell them to come on down!
We are so excited to have you with us!
See you Thursday!
TT and Michael!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Polaroid excitement (and plug for Palm Press)

I went to Palm Press in Concord tonight to sign my polaroids before they go into the frames. I am getting more and more excited to see them on the walls of Gallery Kayafas next week.

For anyone looking for printing, matting and framing, show preparation etc, be sure to check out Palm Press. It is a wonderful place run by wonderful people, and I couldn't have placed my polaroids in more capable hands. Thanks guys!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Feature article in Bay Windows

I am excited to announce that Hannah Clay Wareham at Bay Windows has written a wonderful and insightful article about my upcoming exhibition of Coupled at Gallery Kayafas.

You can check out the article on the Bay Windows website, or read the text below.

Photographic series explores "in-between" spaces of female identity and queerness by Hannah Clay Wareham
Staff Reporter Tuesday Feb 23, 2010

In a deliberate and distinct departure from digital, a series of large-format photographs will debut at Gallery Kayafas on March 4. Boston photographer and MassArt grad Jess Dugan used an eight-foot-tall 20x24 Polaroid camera (one of only five in the world) to produce "Coupled," a portrait series exploring queer relationships that have an association with female identity.

"My definition of who was eligible to be included were people who had some connection to a female identity," Dugan said. "For some of them, that meant that they were both female-identified; for some of them, that meant that they were transgender-identified in one way or another -- male-to-female or female-to-male. ...Everyone in the project has some type of a queer identity and some connection to a female identity."

Jess’ involvement with the LGBT community extends back for years. "I definitely identify as being queer, and I identify as sort of gender-variant," Dugan said. While she now uses female pronouns, Dugan used to prefer people refer to her using male pronouns. "I have been an active part of the trans community for a long time, but I don’t really like identifying as trans because I feel like I sort of occupy an ambiguous space," she said.

"I kind of embody this in-between space, but in my daily life and in my professional life, I’m probably seen as being female and being a dyke of some kind. I sort of border the lines between the two communities, as I imagine you could tell the project does, too."

The subjects of "Coupled" are not models; they’re real people who chose to be involved with the project for many different reasons, including the political. Jess timed her project to include LGBT couples in the months and years following the legalization of marriage equality in Massachusetts.

Most meaningful, however, could be the feeling of community that emerged from the photo shoots. "The faces, styles, and energy of and between each person in the photographs are so authentic, and lend not only the physical manifestation of queer couples in our community, but also a poetic narrative of human relationships," Dani Fazio, one of Dugan’s subjects, said. Fazio -- a former MassArt classmate of Dugan’s -- and her wife Jen Joy posed for the shot "Dani and Jen." "This work proves to be important to our culture as we struggle for equality; it is a great representation of the relationships we work to protect," she said.

In "Coupled," Dugan posed her subjects against a deep red background, both people looking unsmiling into the camera. "It wasn’t supposed to be a ’red is for love’ type thing," Dugan said of her color choice. "I liked that it was bold. It’s sort of an aggressive red in a way, but also kind of alludes to that love, Valentine’s Day color. ...I wanted it to be really intense, really saturated." The striking background and careful lighting only serve to enhance the straightforward, powerful gazes of Dugan’s subjects. They appear to the viewer first as couples and secondly as gendered, or in some cases ungendered, beings in human relationships that seem entirely accessible even to those outside of the project.

"I chose to do the same composition, the same background, the same lighting for each couple to really draw attention to them as people and also create this kind of repetition of framing so that the differences you’re really noticing are the people themselves," she said.

In some frames, the gender of the subjects is obvious to the viewer. In other shots, however, the only sure fact that can be inferred about the subjects is their relation to each other; they are each, indeed, coupled.

"Part of what I like about [the series] is that you don’t quite know who’s who and what their story is," Dugan said. "Some of it you can get from the images, but some of it you might not know unless you knew the people."

Dugan started "Coupled" while she was still a student at MassArt, taking the shots in sets of five at a time with the massive Polaroid camera. "Actually doing the shoot is pretty entertaining because the camera’s so large," Dugan said. "When the bellows are fully extended, it’s like five feet between the lens and the ground glass, which is where the exposure is actually made, so what that means is you need a lot of light to have the correct exposure."

Six strobe lights illuminated both the background and the subjects for a split second while each exposure was made. "You go from being in complete darkness to this really intense burst of light," Dugan said. "It was a very unique situation; most people have never seen that kind of camera or sat for something like that." The unique format required the subjects to remain completely still while the exposure was made; an inch’s movement would have created a blur.

"I was familiar with the 20x24 Polaroid camera," Fazio said, "but I overlooked that this was a foreign experience for Jen, and so she sat frozen, whispering questions to me about whether or not to smile. The lights were off for a moment, then a huge flash from the strobes, and Jen is now immortalized like a deer in headlights."

The permanence of the images captured by the Polaroid camera immortalized relationships as they existed in the split second the exposure was made. "Once you take a Polaroid, you can’t really futz with it," Gunner Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC) and subject of portrait "Gunner and Lee," said. "As a trans person, if I had had the photos, at a different point in my transition, I think I would’ve been happier." Like Fazio, Scott was familiar with the large format camera, but still marveled at the experience. "It was a huge camera, and I think the most exciting or interesting thing was you were in a space that was dedicated to taking photographs with this type of camera."

The workspace and all that it encompassed -- the darkness, the waiting, the flash of light, and the finish -- resounded differently for nearly every participant, and for Jess herself. "This work moves people; it captivates us in a way that resonates personally, socially, and politically," Fazio said. "Being in these photographs makes me feel like my wife and I are sitting among these fascinating couples, and together we portray a unique impression of a community which is often overlooked or misrepresented in contemporary media."

Scott approached the work with concerns about the presumed gender of the participants. "I hope people don’t assume that everyone in the series is female," Scott said. "I think it’s [about] not making assumptions about the gender of the couple."

As for Jess, she thrived during the physical act of capturing the likenesses of such varied and individual subjects, and introducing them to such a rare and beautiful camera. "The part I found most meaningful," she said, "was actually during the photo shoots and sharing this process with people."

"Coupled" will open at Gallery Kayafas (450 Harrison Ave. Ste. 37, Boston) on Thursday, March 4. An opening reception will be held Friday, March 5, at 5:30 p.m. For more information, please visit or e-mail

Photo at the Mineralogical Museum

In line with yesterday's post, here is a photo of me at the Mineralogical Museum, with my colleagues Tracy and Carl (waving from behind the exhibition case), the Curator of the collection.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Life after MassArt

I have been invited to speak on a panel for the junior and senior photography majors at MassArt about "Life after MassArt." happening tomorrow, and I am thrilled. Now that I'm nearly three years out of school, I can see how nobody could ever prepare you for the transition that comes when you leave. Every person has to figure out how to live as an artist outside of a school environment, which is drastically different for everyone.

Though it has only been three years since I graduated, I have been building a career in museums right alongside my career as a fine art photographer. I have found balance by having a full-time job and making my own work on the weekends. In 3 months, I'll have a Master's in Museum Studies, setting myself up for a steady career to support my photography. But this is not what I imagined my life would be like when I was about to finish art school.

When I graduated, I faced the hurdle of figuring out how to balance the financial and time requirements of daily life and making photographs and also of finding a way to keep making work and a community of people to make that work within. All of that aside, my biggest hurdle was the expectation that I would continue to be as productive as I had been while in school. I had a very fuzzy idea of what it meant to be "an artist," one that involved lots of sacrifices, no steady apartment or job, lots of residencies and grants, and, let's face it... ramen.

None of this really proved to be true for me, at least not thus far. I make my work slowly but steadily, around the demands of my full-time job and the reality of paying rent and doing laundry, but it works. In fact, much of my work, inspiration, and people from whom I get feedback and ask for advice has come from my experiences working at the art museum, the mineralogical museum, or in my master's program. In other words, though it is a struggle to make photographs around a 9-5 job, a large part of my work would never have happened without it. I have grown as a photographer as a result of working within these spaces and within the time restrictions of balancing a job and my own work (and an occasional social life).

None of the above writing will be presented in any formal way on the panel tomorrow- rather, I'll be showing my work and interjecting thoughts in between as I think of them- but it is interesting to try to put 3 years of "figuring it out" into a tangible piece of advice for another generation of soon-to-be grads.

There is no "one fits all" for how to be an artist- or for that matter, a person- and everyone will have to figure it out for themselves. I am thrilled to be going back to speak, as I always valued hearing from artists about their experiences while I was a student, and hopefully it will prove to be helpful. And maybe make that massive period of uncertain transition right after graduating a little bit easier.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Public Display of Acceptance

Please join me next week to be a part of The WEDLOCK Project. Details below:


Part Guerilla Queer Bar, part flash mob, part activist march! A broader description is detailed below.

YOU and a Friend!

If you're gay/lesbian/queer - bring a straight friend of the same sex.
If you're straight bring a queer friend of the same sex!
Don't know anyone outside your sexual preference? Bring ANYONE of the same sex!

6:30- 8:30PM


PUBLIC DISPLAYS OF ACCEPTANCE (PDAs) is a series of public intervention performances that take place once a month from November 2009 through May 2010. The artists pair up same-sex couples composed of one straight and one gay person. For each intervention the group performs one unifying public display of affection, i.e. handholding, walking arm in arm, standing and hugging, etc. for up to an hour at a time.

The intention of the PDAs is to create more visibility for same-sex intimacy, to give the straight participant the experience of his/her gay counterpart, and to allow the gay participants to gain public acceptance.


For further information contact:


617 642 2933

Planning for The WEDLOCK Project Performance

I'm excited to head to Gallery Kayafas tonight after work to meet with Arlette, the owner, and TT Baum, one of the artists of The WEDLOCK Project, to finalize plans for the performance on March 26th.

TT's work is amazing and definitely worth a look:

As is The WEDLOCK Project.

Hope to see you at the performance on March 26th!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

An Interview with Adi Nes

An Interview with Adi Nes

By Jess T. Dugan

April 27, 2008

Originally published in Issue #81 of Big, Red, & Shiny

Jess T. Dugan: How did you begin making photographs?

Adi Nes: When I finished my army service I began thinking about what I wanted to study. Since I had artistic tendencies, I thought about studying industrial design, graphics or film making. Though I had painted at the time, I was more focused on acquiring a practical profession since I come from a family that was not well-off financially. When I arrived to register at the Academy of Art and Design the numerous possibilities confused me and I kept changing my mind as to what to do. Finally, I chose photography - by accident! I was summoned for an interview by the photography faculty and much to my surprise was accepted even though I didn't even have a photography portfolio. Years later when I asked the teachers why they accepted me, they told me of the numerous candidates who arrived after their Big Trip they took to the Far East upon being released from the army, each one with a similar portfolio of pictures they took of Thai women in rice fields and such, when I fell upon them: some kind of strange bird who painted instead of photographed. Photography, they said to themselves, is a teachable technology. Yet it would be a shame to waste the kernels of artistic talent they saw in me, so they accepted me.

JTD: Your photographs are extensively planned out and staged, yet they speak to very real moments and emotions. Can you talk about your process of conceiving and making a photograph, as well as how you came to work in this manner?

AN: Staged photography, the style which I've adopted, demands complex production and exacting direction, if for no other reason than a great deal of money and energy are poured into it. This is a style that, actually, developed when photography was invented. Later, people like Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall, Gregory Crewdson and others brought staged photography to a certain level of artistic perfection. Some view photographers as "hunters" who go out into the streets with their 35mm cameras and zoom lenses in an attempt to "catch" some situation. I work a little differently, perhaps more like "gleaner". The sources of images I build, the world in which I travel, they are like snapshots for me: personal memories, experiences, impressions of body language or some texture that fascinates me. Frequently I'm aided by documentary photographs by others - whether taken by professionals or amateurs. From tidbits I collect here and there I weave my ideas for a picture and transform them into physical sketches that give me a common language with other production people like those involved with makeup and lighting. With the aid of the camera I bring back the image that has been built from different sources so it becomes a new picture, which tells a story and is part of a series of images which I create. Now that I have the privilege to stage a shot and not rely merely on what reality presents, I can be more picky about the quality of the lighting and the picture, the staging, location and costumes - which are, in a sense, the artist/photographer's palette. This type of photography fits someone who is, essentially, a control freak. I feel I also have this perfectionist side and desire to control everything down to the smallest detail. For many years I earned a living working in the television and film industry and suspect that much of what I learned in these fields sunk-in to my consciousness and influenced my style of working as a stills photographer. One who looks at my photographs clearly knows they're staged, yet the experience is akin to entering a movie theater when the lights are dimmed: for a moment you may believe the images that tell a story which is entirely allegorical, a story which may be about you.

JTD: You have spoken about the mandatory three year military service expected of all men in Israel. To what extent are your photographs about war or affected by your experience in the Israeli army?

AN: When I began the series of photographs about soldiers a few years ago I decided that the soldiers in my pictures would never fight. I wanted the soldier to be a metaphor for humanity, not to be any specific soldier of any political significance or location. Thus, unlike photographs of Israeli soldiers common in the media, I decided that my soldiers would never fight; they'd always be between fighting: eating, drinking, laughing, smoking. Additionally, they're usually in a non-specific place that could be any place, often at a time that could be any time. During my military service I was an air traffic controller and not a foot soldier, yet in my pictures the soldiers are usually infantry. I seek to sharpen - in the image of the ultimate soldier - humanness, fragility, childlikeness. These are certainly traits that exist in me. Of course the background of my soldier photos is my Israeliness, living in a culture where the image of the soldier appears frequently in the media, in the local history of art, in Israeli cinema, and above on, on the street.

In my works I deal with issues of identity - a subject that occupies me a lot. As a gay man and one who lives in Israel the easiest way I found to deal with these issues was by staging masculine images in uniforms. Young, handsome men in complex situations in which death is an intrinsic part. They are immortalized in a picture and frozen in time as eternally young - a recurring motif for artists, as in for example, Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. I deal with issues of identity and soldiers as in Youths, my next series of photographs who are at the age when questions of identity arise. Also, the fact the society or the army expects them to be just soldiers, negates their personal identity by issuing an identity number which appears on their dog tags, causes them to think about their identity. The army environment, much like the Israeli street, is very male dominated. That's where I situated subjects in my projects that deal with masculinity. Yet these are new men who act in the modern arena of today's reality. The soldier in the picture - as in every creative work - is just a metaphor.

JTD: Can you speak about your interest in the soldier as a vehicle to address both identity and masculinity?

AN: Obviously each creation is influenced by the artist's biography. I think that as one who grew up being different, gay, from a peripheral development town and a lower-class Sephardic family in a masculine society, that I adopted a perspective which I am unable to shake even today: the perspective of the outsider. I'm an outsider looking into the center; somewhat admiring, somewhat critical. It's not coincidental that all the heroes of my pictures come from the fringe: street people, prisoners, tenement youth. And in most of the pictures there is some dramatic contrast: life of soldiers in the field contrasted with the history of art; prisoners and fashions of high society, homeless as bible heroes. And all this sprinkled with homoerotic overtones which is also part of my personality.

JTD: This quote was taken from the exhibition program "Adi Nes: Biblical Stories" that accompanies your recent exhibition at the Wexner Center for the Arts at the Ohio State University.

"When I started the project four years ago, I wondered what happens after everything's been erased. If I ignore that I am gay, I ignore that I grew up in a Sephardic family, I ignore that I grew up in a development town, I ignore that I'm an artist- what is the main thing in my own identity? I thought that the first layer that would exist is Judaism- that I can't run away from my Jewish identity. But when I finished the project, I found a different answer. I found that humanity, friendship, and being generous and compassionate, these are the last things I have as a human being."

With this in mind, can you speak about how your individual circumstances affect the way you work and the photographs you make?

Similarly, your photographs are mostly of men, and many of them contain homoerotic elements, yet your photographs simultaneously deal with masculine identity in Israel. Can you speak about the clash of these two cultures and ideas, and in the ways they simultaneously co-exist and challenge one another?

AN: Israeli society is young, it's only 60 years old, and it's still forming and influenced by the middle eastern climate, immigrants from many lands, the West and especially the United States, Jewish history and, in its early years, its desire to create a "New Jew" different from the weak diaspora Jew. Of course, with all this is a strong army that acts as the central melting pot. Despite the fact that the country is small, it's difficult to compare the atmosphere in the center - Tel Aviv is liberal, modern and Western like New York - with that of Jerusalem or other places with religious or more conservative communities.

Yet, in general, the Israeli street is very "masculine" or at least evokes masculine qualities like hardness and aggressiveness. Counterbalancing these rough aspects of society are other softer qualities like community, comradeship and brotherhood that are dominant and find many forms of cultural expression through popular songs, film and literature. To an outsider camaraderie may be confused with love between men. Looking one straight in the eyes or middle eastern body language - people touching each other - can be easily misunderstood. This is a subject quite often spoken about between homoeroticism and homosexuality.

I think that homoeroticism exists in all masculine environs whether on the rugby field or fire stations. The beauty of art is that everyone can see what they want, like life in which the potential of something can exist.

JTD: You have spoken about having the opportunity to live and work in the United States or Paris, the way many of your colleagues and friends have done. Can you speak about your decision to remain in Israel and continue to photograph as an openly gay man despite the challenges you face?

AN: The Hebrew language and my Jewish identity are such central aspects of my personality that I couldn't easily pick up and move to another place. In addition to this, even if I wanted to go elsewhere, no country in the world is actually dying to welcome Israeli immigrants even though moving somewhere is not impossible. Despite the fact that Israel is not an easy place to live in, it's where I live - along with all the social tensions and security problems. As I said earlier, Tel Aviv, where I live, is very Western and liberal. Our activist supreme court has ruled favorably on a long string of laws which protect the civil rights of gays and places Israel alongside the most advanced democracies of the world in this matter. Take, for example, the army's attitude toward gay men: being gay does not exempt you from service, and to the daughter who will be born to me soon she can have two fathers legally recognized as such by the authorities. Along with this, Israel is a society with many complex problems that, to a certain extent, serve me as an artist by challenging me to see its multifaceted nature. Often the world appears smaller because technology enables the periphery to get closer to the center. In the last few years I've taken advantage of my international career, which requires me to take numerous flights to Europe and North America, as a way of enjoying both worlds: living in Israel while traveling abroad. On the other hand, the more I travel I realize that the same problems exist everywhere and we don't seem to learn the good things from each other but rather the bad: terrorism, alienation and darkness seem to be gripping the West.

JTD: When you first exhibited your photographs in Israel, what kind of response did you receive? Have you faced opposition because of your subject matter?

AN: Much to my delight, from the first time I displayed my works 15 years ago the response was encouraging. Despite the fact that my photographs deal with complex subjects, they aren't provocative or divisive. In the past I've received government prizes and my works have been displayed in important, main-stream Israeli museums.

JTD: Your images draw heavily on art history and cultural history. Can you speak about your decision to reference not only historical and cultural texts, such as the Bible, but also the interpretation of these texts through art by such masters as Caravaggio and Rubens?

AN: The power of myths has nurtured different areas of art for hundreds of years. As a visual artist I can't only relate to texts or stories and deliberately ignore pictorial references created by the old masters. Along with this, in places where I interpret texts, whether biblical or from Christian mythology, I'm not trying to illustrate or dramatize the story, rather, I'm trying to use the text to say something new - about myself, and the world from which I come. A good photograph, like any piece of art, is multi-layered. It can be interpreted in multiple ways - read as a narrative, read for content and timeliness, read visually in how it relates to issues of composition and the language of photography, read in context to how and where it is displayed and on and on. The moment I choose to leave my works without titles, viewers are free to choose the way they look at the work. Take, for example, Untitled 2000, in which a youth is laying in the street and women begin to gather around him. It's a picture that began from a personal trauma I suffered as a child when I was injured in a motorcycle accident in the middle of our community. Yet, my photograph also expresses the death of Adonis from Greek mythology, Rubens' Death of Adonis, and also the image of removing Jesus from the cross (with women surrounding him). Also invoked is the image of the woman crouching over the body of her friend at Kent State as well as the Israeli reality of suicide bombers who blown themselves up in the street. Just as the picture speaks of masculinity and the identity of young men - as do the rest of the pictures in my series of Youth, or about eternal youth as in the pictures of Soldiers - this picture also deals with various forms of feminism in the street, on posters and in general culture.

JTD: Is there a large community of photographers working in Tel Aviv? Additionally, is there a welcoming gay community?

AN: In Tel Aviv, as well in many other areas of the Western world, the community of photographers is large and active. There are a number of art schools, galleries which exhibit photographs, contemporary photo exhibits in museums, photography collectors who also purchase Israeli art as well as the best of international photography along with internet forums and blogs in Hebrew. Tel Aviv is also the central city in which Israeli cultural life takes place so there is a gay community, an engaging night life, DJs from the US and Europe, numerous club bars and night clubs. Several popular Israeli singers have come out of the closet in recent years and in commercial television the image of gays holds a respectable place. A few years ago the state representative to the European song festival was a transsexual named Dana International. Yet along with this, as is the case throughout the world, the further one goes from the center, the less open and more conservative people are with regards to gay issues. This liberal atmosphere has not always been here and is due, to no small extent, to the many artists in different fields who expressed their empathetic and inspirational acceptance.

JTD: Who do you look to for inspiration?

AN: My inspiration comes from everything around me beginning with images I see in the media or on the street yet also emerging from my memory, dreams, fantasies... people I admire, classical and contemporary art, films and literature. My approach to work is through narrowing and broadening my scope: a small idea takes form and grows as I journey into inspirational sources yet the moment it germinates, I begin to strip away what's unessential and to focus on the simple image. Afterwards, a complex process of intricate production takes place until the day of shooting when, again, I narrow down the work and focus on the set which demands sensitivity to natural light, on the personal story of the person being photographed, to different nuances of expression and change which takes place in each moment.

Afterwards, a complex process of intricate production takes place until the day of shooting when, again, I narrow down the work and focus on the set which demands sensitivity to natural light, on the personal story of the person being photographed, to different nuances of expression and change which takes place in each moment.

JTD: What are you currently working on, and what is next?

AN: My work process is long, complex and dynamic. Currently I'm working on a modern adaptation to a classic tragedy - yet in the coming months I'll become a father and expect that the experience will undoubtedly influence my creativity in ways I'm currently unaware.

Michelle Lamuniere lecture tomorrow

I am sad to say I don't think I can attend this lecture, but if you can, you should! It is presented by Michelle Lamuniere, the Assistant Curator of Photography at the Harvard Art Museum (pictured above in my series A Moment Collected: Photographs at the Harvard Art Museum). It is always a privilege and an inspiration to hear her speak. Details below:

Wednesday, February 17, 6:30-7:30pm

Twins When They Began to Take Modified Milk” Part of the In-Sight: Looking Deeper and Differently Lecture Series Arthur M. Sackler Museum Lecture Hall, 485 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02138

Tickets $18 (members of Harvard Art Museum $12, students with valid ID $8, Harvard students free on a first-come, first-served basis). Space is limited, and registration is strongly encouraged.

Michelle Lamunière, John R. and Barbara Robinson Family Assistant Curator of Photography, Harvard Art Museum/Fogg Museum

This compelling photograph of a mother and her twins is the basis for a larger discussion of Harvard’s Social Museum, a compilation of photographs and graphic material established in 1903 to collect the social experience of the world as material for university teaching. The image prompts an exploration of the early use of photography as a social document and its role in educating students about social problems and the solutions - such as the provision of pasteurized milk - developed to ameliorate them.

For more information, visit To register, call 617-495-0534.

Monday, February 15, 2010

On the failure of language

As the opening of my Coupled exhibition draws closer and I find myself working on generating press, sending invites, etc, I am having more and more trouble accurately describing the couples within the series without sending out press materials the length of a short novel.

My original intent with the series was to photograph queer (which is perhaps not a term everyone would self-identify with) couples who had some connection to a female identity. I sought out couples who were either lesbian identified, queer identified (but both female), or a mixture of female and trans identified, both on the Female-to-Male spectrum and the Male-to-Female spectrum.

But now, I find myself at a loss for words. "Queer" as an identity is likely to exclude some of the older couples in the series who very strongly identify as "lesbian" couples, while a word like "lesbian" would exclude someone such as myself, not to mention all of the other couples with one or two gender variant or transgender identified people. In an effort to get away from this problem, I called the couples "same-sex," but this too has been pointed out as an inaccurate description.

It begs the question of how exactly to refer to this work in a concise way without excluding any of its subjects? My intentions were clear from the beginning, and I made sure every sitter knew what the goal of the project was, as well as my intention to make it public. I strongly believe that the problem is not with the images- everyone loved the images I took of them and felt happy to be a part of the project. The problem has arisen with the addition of language, specifically language meant to label and/or identify the identities of the people within the images.

Simply put, no two couples in the series share the exact same personal identity, but they do share a connection to the queer community (or whatever they would like to call it) as well as a willingness to be photographed with their chosen partner and displayed to the world proudly. I would hope that the images speak on their own, and for this reason the titles are simply the names of the subjects and do not further identify the people by their gender identity or orientation. But the problem still remains that there has to be a way to write about this project, somewhat concisely, for the purposes of exhibition.

I have drafted a statement that I hope captures this essence without excluding anyone, and I'll copy it from my website below. I welcome any feedback or thoughts on this issue.

Statement for 'Coupled':

is a series of twenty large-format Polaroids of couples, taken between 2006 and 2008. While the majority of the forty people in the photographs were born female and identify as female, some were born female and transitioned to be male, while others were born male and transitioned to be female. Others, still, are more ambiguous in their gender identity, but 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 project is documentary in nature, capturing a specific group of couples at a historic time, especially in Massachusetts, it also raises universal questions about attraction, love, and the nature of relationships. Because the images were taken over a period of time, several of the couples ended their relationships and began new ones, two of which I then photographed again. The inclusion of the same people with different partners alludes to change and the impermanent nature of human relationships.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love is in the air

In honor of Valentine's day, I'm posting a few of my new(ish) images of couples.

The first two are from The (Trans)Gender Series, taken in June 2009, and the last one is of my mom and her partner and the late Ms. Abigail the cat.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Behind the Scenes at the Farm

It is a fairly rare occurrence that anyone other than my subject and myself are present while I'm photographing, and an even rarer occurrence that the process is photographed.

When I was photographing Barb on a farm in Western Mass, Anna (pictured below in the red jacket) was present and taking images. Below are some of the photos of us getting ready, Barb catching a lamb, and the two images that resulted from that day at the farm (the black and white ones). Plus, the lambs are super cute.


In Between at Allegheny College

I am honored that three images from The (Trans)Gender Series were selected to be a part of the exhibition In Between: (re)Negotiating Ethnicity, Gender, and Sexuality curated by Emily Yochim, Vika Gardner, and Darren Lee Miller. The exhibition runs through February 16th in Meadville, PA, and I am sad to say I wasn't able to attend in person and it is close to being over.

The organizers of this exhibition did a wonderful job of putting together a stellar show, with work by many artists I admire. They put together an exhibition catalogue that included interviews with all of the artists. The full text can be read here.

Below is the full text from my interview with Vika Gardner. Our interview was conducted over the phone, so the basic ideas are mine, but the wording is somewhat paraphrased.

Interview with JESS DUGAN

Vika Gardner: What happened in 2005 that made you start wanting to photograph trans people?

Jess Dugan: The trans project began after I had chest surgery; the first picture I took with my new camera was one of my mother and I without our shirts. I’d only had the camera for two weeks and so I was experimenting with both my new body and the new camera. I feel very similar and different at the same time with my mother. I was trying to understand more fully the different choices we made/make.
I moved on from that to photographing others, people I knew and then people I did not know well.

VG: Do you use text to direct a viewer's experience?

JD: I’m not trying to represent narratives, or even identities. I know some people include more information on the subjects of the photographs, but I use only their names, and let the context of the images tell more about the gender. Because I’m using a 4-by-4 camera, I have to have a lot of participation with my subjects. The large format camera means the subjects need to be still for longer than a snapshot would typically require. The classical format and the shallow depth of field don’t immediately mark anything as trans, but leave it open.
In my work I try not to see trans as a fettish, or a subject from a horror film. I want to balance it. It’s like everyone else but it’s not. I don’t want to sugarcoat it, but rather present people as they are. I want to include scars, to show the moments of change. I’ve tried to do photographs of testosterone injections, the more obvious moments of transition, but they haven’t worked well as photographs.

VG: Do you see yourself as part of a lineage?

JD: When I began, I looked at the radical photographers -- Mapplethorpe, Opie -- I liked that they were in your face, I was interested in that. Then I started working with the photographs of a more classical style, like Walker Evans and Dorothea Lang, and started fusing the two. But I also still have a desire for queer photography.
Trans photography is a hot item, although I understand it’s not that way in every context.

VG: Is your work grounded in a location?

JD: I think my work is specifically American. It can be very Boston; I have access to people there, to different kinds of people. I’m not sure how my experience as a photographer would change in a different place; I’ve only been to Vietnam.
I work full time at the Harvard Art Museum, and rent a space for a darkroom in Cambridge. I also do commercial photography, weddings, and so forth to pay for my art. Graduating was like jumping off a cliff: nothing happens the way you expect it to. Because I’m working full time and having to do other paying work, I don’t have time to hang out with my girlfriend or hang out in the park on a nice day the way people with fewer commitments can. It does mean that having the time here visiting my dad [in Arkansas] includes visits to people I know here who I have been photographing, like Ely. I plan to go photograph him while I’m here. So I don’t want to be too negative.

VG: Tell me about the picture with the shirts hanging out to dry?

JD: I have done a lot of portraits, and I wanted to expand into more still lifes when I did that. I had just done laundry and hung it there, and I liked it. The t-shirts -- white t-shirts -- are symbolic of masculinity for me; I wanted to wear white t-shirts. Gender sometimes seems to me as a uniform, something malleable. The pictures of drag kings also sometimes seem that way: a hyper-charicaturized masculinity that individuals put on and take off. It’s common for people to like that photograph but not understand why they’re drawn to it.

VG: Are the images staged? Do you collaborate with your subjects?

JD: I like to not stage my photographs. I don’t bring lighting with me, I just come and work with what’s there, work with the environment that I have. The coffee photograph in particular was of my roommate; I saw them and told them to just stay there while I brought the camera to capture the moment. So on some level, yes, I knew how the light struck in that time in the morning, but it also was capturing a natural moment in a natural setting.
At conferences I take pictures in the hotel lobby. I wasn’t that interested in the backgrounds, since using a shallow focus meant it was all blurred anyway. I look at shapes and tones. But my work in the past two years photographing in the Museum has been changing that; I’m doing new work in relation to space, people in space, the environment itself. Triptichs are also a new form for me, which allow for a greater relation to space, environment.
In Boston I use people’s homes; it allows for a level of comfort and privacy that you can’t get elsewhere, and people are more relaxed. So you get a relaxed environment and image.

VG: Why do you work in black and white?

JD: All my personal work is in BW; color isn’t my favorite. I worked with it in college when I had to, but BW is more comfortable.

VG: Why photography?

JD: I was always drawn to it, even as a child. I would take pictures of my teddy bear [laughs]. I moved to Boston [from Arkansas] with my mother when I was 13. In high school I wanted to take photography, but I was only able to when I was a senior. In college we weren’t supposed to declare a major until sophomore year, but I started on photography right away and have always felt an affinity to it.

VG: You grew up in Arkansas?

JD: Yes. I’ve always had an attraction and repulsion to the South. I romanticize it and then when I’m confronted with the reality of it again, I reject it. I’m so impressed with people I meet who live here. Ely works in a restaurant with some good ole boys, and I am so amazed with the amount of energy that he spends just getting through the day.

VG: The images in the prints seem to be framed by dark corners.

JD: The vignetting was planned, although in the triptich it’s a little distracting. I almost always print full frame. I compose in camera normally, and print 16x20 at home. It’s my pattern.

VG: What kinds of emotional qualities to you want to convey?

JD: I go for a subtlety. The look in the eyes doesn’t translate well over the internet; a print is much better. I want a quiet emotion. My subjects are not usually smiling or laughing. It’s understated.

VG: Do you see yourself doing this -- the trans series -- until you’re old and grey?

JD: As time goes on the trans work is harder to separate from the rest of what I do. I’ve started to blur the boundaries. I see myself as trans -- but a bigger part of my identity right now is “photographer”. Trans is a big part but not necessarily the major part.

VG: How do you see gender?

JD: It’s complicated. I’m trying to see who people actually are versus the cultural signifiers within which they find themselves. Even when the cultural signifiers are questioned, it’s hard not to use them. We have to navigate within the system. Personally, it’s not about the male-female differentiation. It sometimes seems simple and basic, but we have to make choices. My project is about blurring how these are seen. I photographed a butch woman who’s a mechanic in front of a car -- it’s about the crossing of gender, not meeting the expectations, not necessarily about being trans specifically. I’m examining the markers of gender, those that people are choosing to fit into, and those that are inherent in the culture.
I feel like gender is a spectrum. It’s expressed in how you feel comfortable. This isn’t confined to people who are trans. A better world would have this as less strict, more universal. Letting go of the constraints would benefit everyone.
Gender and sexuality have everything and nothing to do with each other. Only a few of the trans people I know have transitioned into the normative het[erosexual] model, of a straight man and a straight woman.
I don’t always fit well into communities. Some people [in the trans community] want to know when I’m going to continue on with my surgeries, and have a harder time accepting that I’m happy with myself now just the way I am. I feel more true in some ways saying I’m an artist; it feels more like my true self.

VG: I’m married to a man who often sees himself as being both feminine and masculine while having to act only masculine, and who sees me as being both masculine and feminine, and he wants me to act feminine, even though he sees us as fitting together well because we’re neither one nor the other. The boxes of gender don’t always fit us well even when on the surface we’re “conforming” to expectations.

JD: The boxes are exhuasting! The trans projects helped when I first has the surgery and was talking about trans idea all the time, but after a year, I was bored and wanted to talk about something else. Everyone wants to put you into boxes. Even when they themselves don’t conform to expectations, they want you to not conform in their way. It gets awkward. Everyone has so much pressure. I wouldn’t say straight men are oppressed, but they have to conform to these pressures as well, fit into roles.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Film is coming!

Due to the excitement that is payday, I ordered 4 new boxes of film today. I have been waiting and waiting, my stash of film dwindling, for this day, and am now excitedly awaiting its arrival in the nicely labeled, unmistakably comforting B + H box. (nerdy, I know, but true nonetheless).

I am going full-force with my new project now that my series A Moment Collected: Photographs at the Harvard Art Museum is completed and my portfolio is nearly printed. I have several people in mind for my new photographs, and am making my way to them one by one.

Most of my new images are either contact prints or still in the latent image phase, but I'll be sure to post them here once they're scanned and ready to be shown.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The last photos from the Fogg

Though I quit shooting at the Fogg a while ago, I finally scanned my last two portraits. They'll be up on my website shortly, but here's a sneak peek.

The single image is Katie, an assistant registrar. The triptych is the Curator and Assistant Curator of American Art, and though it was taken at the Fogg, it is more in line with my newest body of work (more to come on that).

Harry Callahan show and small prints

Last night, I went for the second time to see the Harry Callahan show at the Museum of Fine Arts. I find it interesting that it is paired with an exhibition of Albrecht Durer, who I love- but this post will focus more on Callahan.

The first time I went to see the show, I didn't have a lot of time to spend with it, and the gallery was very crowded. This time, on a snowy Wednesday night, the gallery was mostly empty and I had all the time in the world to look at the images.

Many things struck me about the show. For a relatively small exhibition, the range of work was vast. I wasn't aware of Callahan's commitment to experimentation, and was fascinated to see the many different techniques he used over the course of his career. I was most familiar with his works of his wife, Eleanor, but was delighted to see the prints in person and up close. His printing style was very subjective- sometimes very dark, sometimes very light- but not necessarily "correct." One of my favorite images from the show is an 8 x 10 print that is almost entirely black, with a very tiny nude Eleanor the only thing visible in the light. It seems like such a radical, and simultaneously elegant, way to make an image.

His use of color, experimentation with darkroom techniques, including writing with light and making multiple exposure prints, and exploration of presentation styles all struck me as incredibly adventurous. I am somewhat ashamed to say I have never looked that closely at Callahan's work, and hadn't realized the full extent of his curiosity and willingness to explore.

But, all of this is to lead me to what struck me the most, something I was aware of before seeing the show but that hit me hard when I was actually in its presence: the prints are small. And absolutely stunning, packed with a mighty punch. As someone who went through photography school relatively recently, I have had it ingrained into me that photographs are big. More often than not, photographs are presented in galleries and museums at a size that was absolutely unheard of in the last generation. At times, I feel that the size adds to the piece, but quite often, I feel that it is completely unnecessary, and sometimes detracts from it.

During my time working at the Harvard Art Museum, I was lucky enough to handle a significant percentage of the collection on a very personal level. I saw images in their original form that I had previously seen only as slide projections on a massive wall or reproduced in a book. Among the images that struck me the most was Callahan's small, lightly printed image of Eleanor with her arms above her head. I had a vision of this image as a monumental icon of American photography and assumed it was large, when in fact it was a very small print of only a few inches. I had similar experiences with the work of Robert Frank, Bruce Davidson, Diane Arbus, etc. To see these works in person, and to be able to view up close the printing technique, the borders, the size, and the occasional dent or fixer smudge made them feel much more authentic and alive.

All of these thoughts beg the question: is bigger always better? Though I am a large-format photographer, my prints are 16" x 20" at their largest, and I am debating shooting 8" x 10" film sometime in the future out of a desire to exhibit contact prints. Not every image begs to be large, or even benefits from it- sometimes, a small, intimate photograph is the perfect physicality for the emotion the image is hoping to convey.