Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New website

I am excited to announce that I have a completely new and re-designed website, which is updated with all of my new work.  The address is the same:

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"Coupled" reviewed in today's Boston Globe

I am honored that Cate McQuaid reviewed my exhibition, Coupled, at Gallery Kayafas.

The full review can be read on the Boston Globe's website.

Below is the section specifically about Coupled:

Exploring gender
Jess T. Dugan’s formal portraits of couples at Gallery Kayafas can also be unnerving. Every one of Dugan’s subjects is a woman, was a woman, or wants to be a woman. Some are transgender. Others are not. Some fall into the category we identify as feminine; others do not.

The portraits can be confrontational: They have red backgrounds, and the subjects stare directly out at us. I found myself puzzling uncomfortably over those whose sex wasn’t immediately evident; I’m still used to discrete categories when it comes to gender. “Lee and Gunner,’’ for instance, are two round, short-haired people who balance feminine softness with a tough mien.

Then I saw “Steph and Adelaide.’’ Adelaide wears a sleeveless black T-shirt and a leather fedora, and she has frilly blond locks curling around her ears. Steph has her hair in a ducktail and wears a track jacket. Their drag places them in the fluid realm between feminine and masculine, but I felt at ease with their portrait. They looked like a fun couple to chat with at a party.

My habit of breaking folks into two genders certainly colored my reaction to Dugan’s photos — it’s her intention to poke holes in that kind of habit, and she does it well. Good portraits reveal something of both viewers and subjects, and the posturing and defensiveness of Dugan’s subjects is bound to make the viewer uncomfortable. Then, as with “Steph and Adelaide,’’ she finds a pair at home in their own skin, and they make us feel at home, too.

Rick Ashley’s sweet and goofy photos of prom couples in Marblehead make a terrific counterpoint to Dugan’s more emotionally charged works. Shot against a white backdrop as they enter the prom, the kids often ham it up for the camera. In “Prom Couple #103,’’ a solidly built girl in a cherry-red satin number looks as if she’s about to heave her class-clown date over her shoulder. They don’t seem to be taking themselves, or the prom, too seriously.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Negatives, Negatives, Negatives

Over the weekend, I made contact prints for a big stack of negatives (exposed as far back as November!). Most of them were new triptychs for A Place so as to Stay, so my stack of around 150 negatives turned into about 12 finished images. Last night, I cut them all up and arranged them together. Figuring out which panels go together the best is one of my favorite parts.

In this new series, I am focusing on people and the ways in which they relate to their environment. More specifically, I'm seeking out people with interesting spaces unique to them and their lives. Thus far, the people in my images are largely people I have known, even in some very small capacity, but I am beginning to wonder at what point I'll need to seek out new people specifically for the project. Oddly enough, when I started looking around me, I realized that a great number of people in my life fit the description of what I'm interested in. Granted, I use the term "in my life" loosely- some of the subjects I had only heard about through a friend. One of the subjects is the spouse of a former professor. Another is the guy that owns the cigar shop where my dad buys his cigars. Another is the guy who washes dishes at the restaurant where my buddy works. Some are people I've met through work, and others are good friends or family. The range is really quite broad, but everyone of them has some meaning to me.

When I was looking around my darkroom as the prints were drying, I suddenly realized how personal this work is. Most of my previous work has become personal as I get to know the subjects, but generally, the subjects aren't people who I am close to or who are a part of my life. But with this work, I am trying to capture the essence of the people who mean the most to me. As obvious as it seems, this realization snuck up on me, at least on a conscious level. I have no doubt that some other part of my brain had this figured out all along, but putting it into words was a new discovery for me. I have surprised myself because some of my favorite images were the ones I staged the least, or the ones I thought would be the least unique. One that comes to mind is a new image of my dad smoking a cigar on his back porch at night. To me, this is just my dad, a sight I see every time I'm with him, so I didn't think a lot of taking a photo of it. But as an image, it's fascinating. If I can view it with different eyes, I see all of the environmental signifiers and quirky objects that make it uniquely my dad. It is a normal space to me, but it is a unique and interesting space nonetheless, one that says more about who my dad is as a person than I intended it to. While I am focusing on planning out the framing of the image before I take it (which I find necessary since I'm shooting triptychs), I am also inspired to take images that surprise me.

I am so excited to continue making these pictures- I feel a giddyness and sense of unlimited possibility. After focusing on projects with specific parameters (i.e. trans people, or the staff of the Fogg), I am overjoyed and overwhelmed to be working on a project that can include ANYBODY, so long as they have something, someone, or somewhere that is important to them.

Sorry I don't have any images to show yet- I'll put the new work up on my website shortly.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Rachel Herman's "the imp of love"

Yesterday, while browsing from photography site to photography site, I had the great fortune to come across Rachel Herman's series "the imp of love." In this series, Rachel photographs couples who were once lovers (but aren't any longer) who are attempting to remain friends and to navigate the sometimes awkward but hopefully rewarding space. The images moved me because this is a subject that many people shy away from- or choose not to engage with- but there is something beautiful in her images, a rawness of human relationships that exists whether it is faced in the light of day or not. I was also intrigued by the variety of people in the images. The ages, genders, sexual orientations, styles, etc are different from image to image, and I found myself fascinated not only that the people in them had this particular story of once-lovers-now-friends, but also that these two people were drawn to each other initially. Looking at the images while knowing the circumstances that led to their creation added a complex and wonderful layer of understanding.

Take a look if you have a chance- it's worth it.

the imp of love

Above image: Tim and Hannah from "the imp of love"

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

NEW Interview with TT Baum and Michael Grohall of The WEDLOCK Project

With their performance at Gallery Kayafas being less than two weeks away, I'm getting more and more excited for TT and Michael's performance on March 26th. I had the chance to interview TT Baum and Michael Grohall about their motivations for and experience with The WEDLOCK Project.

Jess T. Dugan: What are your backgrounds and how did you decide to begin The WEDLOCK Project?

Michael Grohall (MG) and TT Baum (TT): TT is an interdisciplinary artist and Michael is a writer, artist, and activist. We wanted to get married in a way that celebrated who we are as people. After proposing to one another, we decided that we were in rich artistic territory and, a couple of years and several grant proposals later, we found ourselves with a year-long project!

JTD: Could you tell me a little bit about the 3 distinct parts and why you decided to organize it this way, over the course of a year?

MG: Originally we wanted to create a performance piece out of our wedding and simply call it WEDLOCK. As we spent more time conceptualizing, WEDLOCK developed into 3 parts: ENGAGEMENT, PDA: Public Displays of Acceptance, and MATRIMONY. Because of the amount of time it would take to create and stage each part, we realized this was going to be a year-long endeavor beginning with our legal wedding in August 2009 and ending with our spiritual union in August 2010.

Together the three parts form a narrative of the “Romeos” (created out of our own autobiographical experience as gay men in love). In turn each piece confronts perceptions about same-sex marriage and relationship within different social groups. For example, ENGAGEMENT specifically addressed straight society’s perceptions of the GLBT experience of legalized marriage. PDA raises visibility for same-sex public displays of affection in public as well as confronting stereotypes. MATRIMONY re-imagines traditional wedding rituals for same-sex couples.

JTD: I saw your first performance at Space 242 and was incredibly moved by it. How do you begin to create a piece like that, and how does it change through collaboration with each other and ultimately, collaboration with other performers and/or the audience and general public?

TT: Just like anything else that we create we have the concept of what we are trying to get across with the piece. In that case we were telling the story of the characters – The Romeos – and introducing them to the audience. We knew we wanted these two characters poised against a larger, potentially menacing group. Pieces like that go through many incarnations before the audience sees what they see. For instance, ROMEOS began as a much more formal rigid piece with upwards of 20 performers. The other performers always add their experience and problem solving to the piece too. And though we have our final live performance—and an intention of how that will read—it changes with the audience being present and will continue to change as we get feedback after a performance.

JTD: Could you talk a little bit about the PDA experience and what that has been like? Have you had any surprises or discoveries that you weren’t expecting?

MG: The PDA’s (Public Displays of Acceptance) have been very rewarding. It is a piece created to confront our fears as gay and lesbian members of society and to create an alliance with people in our life who are straight. Watching same-sex couples walking around a public space holding hands where one person in gay and the other straight can blow your mind if you think about our social conditioning.

One thing we have found surprising is how many gay/lesbian people are not sure who they could ask to be their ‘straight” counterpart for the performance. We have challenged people to consider why they cannot think of anyone to invite.

We have also been intrigued by how often it is the straight-identified person who is more comfortable holding hands in public than the gay participant. We think being in the majority population has instilled a confidence that gay men and lesbians are still reaching for.

JTD: Do you feel a responsibility as gay artists to create socially relevant work, such as this project, or was it motivated more personally?

TT and MG: We feel that as gay artists – our experience as human beings always informs our work. Just the fact that we are gay and creating art in some ways makes it socially relevant, because it introduces the public to ideas and perspectives that they normally wouldn’t think about. Specifically, with The WEDLOCK Project (though it started as a very personal series of pieces, and still is in many ways) we ultimately feel that we DO have a responsibility to use our marriage experience as a platform for making good art!

JTD: Gay marriage is a controversial subject throughout the country, but there is also a divide within the GLBT community, specifically in more liberal areas such as Massachusetts, about the importance of fighting for marriage rights (or not). Have you found that this divide informs the creation or reception of your work?

TT and MG: The differing opinions within the GLBT community have definitely made it important for us to make The WEDLOCK Project a reality. It’s part of the reason why the sub-title of the project is “confronting perceptions of same-sex marriage.” We aren’t just addressing perceptions and beliefs among straight people. We have had some cold shoulders within the GLBT community, but that pales in comparison to people who actually receive the work and think about their own views after having experience part of the Project.

JTD: How has the reality of the project been different from your expectations?

TT and MG: The Project so far has been much more work than I think either of us realized at first. That said, it has amazed us both how much support we have received from other people.

We originally thought that a project of this scope and complexity, which tackled a very current social issue, would be a great candidate for a grant. So far that has not been the case but we continue to research grants and sponsorship.

JTD: What has been the most rewarding aspect of the project thus far?

TT: For us the most rewarding aspect of the project has been that we get to create together. As two creative people with very different ways of working sometimes, it is fantastic to see how our strengths dovetail into making things happen. It has also given us a great sense of community to be able to use our marriage experience in a public way.

MG: Also it has allowed us to come out in an entirely different way. Being legally married makes us feel like we are equal citizens. I want people to know that TT is my husband and I want to be able to interact like a couple everywhere we go. Through the characters of the Romeos, we have been able to be out in society in a way that I hadn’t let myself experience before.

JTD: I am extremely excited for your performance of a piece SHOWER from the upcoming MATRIMONY section of The WEDLOCK Project at Gallery Kayafas while my show Coupled is on display. Can you speak about how that performance came about for you and how it will be different in this space than in its final presentation in August?

TT and MG: Last October we attended a beautiful wedding of two lesbian friends. Part of their ceremony included a Buddhist water ritual. The celebrant recited sacred chants as she poured water over the women’s joined hands. We knew that we wanted to interpret this in our own way. This was part of our inspiration for the performance piece SHOWER which will be on Friday 3/26 at Gallery Kayafas. SHOWER celebrates the union of the Romeos in a visually provocative way. In the gallery, the piece will be contained in a four by four foot box. For MATRIMONY we hope to stage the piece in the center of a gallery unconfined which will give the audience more direct interaction.

JTD: As an artist working in performance, among other things, have you had difficulty finding spaces to show your work and/or gallery representation? What do you perceive to be the challenges for artists working in media that is not easily sellable?

TT and MG: Finding spaces to show performative and new media work has always been challenging, especially in Boston. Galleries are very excited about the idea of showcasing performance work, but gallerists don’t know what to do with us because our work is not sellable, and they have no experience with charging a door fee for admission. I have been lucky with the Project and my other work that I am able to show at least once a year or so. The biggest challenge with performance and new media is funding. Since the work is often not self-sustaining, most of the cost is personally funded by the artist. In my case, I work a lot!

JTD: What are your plans for the rest of the project and beyond?

TT and MG: We would really like to take WEDLOCK beyond Massachusetts. Last year we got the chance to perform with Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens in a piece from their Love Art Laboratory. Hopefully the four of us can collaborate on some same-sex marriage work. We are looking at taking PDAs to cities and towns in states where same-sex marriage is still illegal, and we are planning a book about the project as well as an evening length show that takes pieces from each part of the first year.

SHOWER will be performed on March 26th at 7 p.m. at Gallery Kayafas in Boston’s South End. More information can be found at

Interview with TT and Michael of The WEDLOCK Project

Listen to this great interview with TT Baum and Michael Grohall of The WEDLOCK Project, hosted by Harry Faddis, if you have a chance.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Rainy Days and.... Darkrooms

There is something perfect about being in the darkroom on a rainy day. Perhaps it's that there is no nice weather calling you outside, and you don't feel like you're missing out on something exciting happening elsewhere. But it seems that it's something beyond that. Though my entire week was hectic and I was pretty exhausted by the time I got home from teaching yesterday, I decided to go into the darkroom and develop a batch of 44 sheets of film. I exposed over 200 sheets, beginning in November, unloaded them into a film box so I could reload the holders and take more, and am literally still making my way through them. I've had a box full, but then shot something new and developed those, and alas those poor negatives from November have sat undeveloped until now. I am nearly done- one more batch should do it.

I am looking forward to seeing all of my new work. It's annoying when you know in your brain what you have shot, and you imagine all of these images that you can't yet see or show to anyone. My recently deeloped film represents a significant part of my new project, so I'm anxious to get them all developed and to see them as prints, not as images in my memory.

I'm going back into the darkroom today for a day of printing. I am grateful to have a quiet day devoted to the darkroom. Though my ventilation fan is loud, I can still faintly hear the rain falling on days like these.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Photos of me and the 20 x 24 Polaroid camera

For the article about my exhibition of Coupled, Bay Windows sent photographer Marilyn Humphries to photograph me with MassArt's 20 x 24 Polaroid camera. I was thrilled to be photographed by Marilyn, as she is a long time friend and wonderful photographer, and also to have an image of me with the camera. It is a unique experience to make work with the Polaroid 20 x 24, an I'm grateful for these images. (I have been told I look stern- but I was just trying to be serious!!!)

Friday, March 12, 2010

New Project (fingers crossed!)

I did my first shoot of a new project on Wednesday, and I can't wait to get the film back!

I should preface this all by saying the majority of my work is black and white, environmental portraiture using natural light and often very slow exposures. For my new project, I am going opposite in every direction. I am shooting portraits with color film against grey seamless, and with strobes! And what fun the first shoot was. Since I have just begun, it will likely be some time before I make any of the new work public, but I can say that the subject matter called for the change in format and medium, and I'm excited to be trying something new.

My fingers are crossed that I did everything right (at least technically) and I'll have some nice new color negatives come next week. Here's hoping.....

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Exploring Museum Careers Panel

Last night I went to a panel hosted by the Career and Academic Resource Center at Harvard about "Exploring Museum Careers." They put together a wonderful panel of museum professionals from diverse backgrounds to speak about their jobs as well as the career path they took to get there. The panelists were:

Purvi Patwari Beck: HR Manager, ICA Boston
Herbert S. Jones: Volunteer and Interns Coordinator, MFA
Penley Knipe: Conservator of Works of Art on Paper, Harvard Art Museum
Laura Muir: Acting Curator, Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard Art Museum
Leah Walczak: Regional Site Manager, Historic New England
Siobhan Wheeler: Assistant Registrar, MFA Boston

As someone about to graduate with a master's degree in Museum Studies, I'm always fascinated to hear people speak about their role within a particular museum and how they got there. I, for one, didn't think I'd be pursuing a career in museums when I graduated from MassArt, but here I am. While they each spoke about issues particular to their field or institution, one thing rang loud and clear from the presentation: do your research. If you're looking to work at a museum, clearly understand what you want to do and find an institution that is a good fit. Every person on the panel, ranging from curatorial to HR, said they are inundated with resumes and cover letters from job and internship seeking applicants that are obviously pre-packaged form letters and show no proof that the applicant has researched the institution. Several of them said that they read the cover letter first, and if it's "standard" and devoid of any personal touches or evidence of research, they don't even look at the resume. Further, they said to find an institution that fits with who you are and where you would fit into the culture. Show a potential employer in your cover letter what you have to offer and why you specifically want to work for them.

I find it fascinating that this advice is identical to what I hear from galleries in regards to submitting work. Many artists send their work to every gallery in a city, or to every museum on a list, as opposed to identifying where their work would fit in and then trying to forge a relationship with that particular gallery, museum, or curator. In my experience, the cold call approach rarely works.

One other big suggestion from the panelists: personal connections and getting involved. Every one of them advocated strongly for getting involved in any way you can, whether through volunteering or interning or simply attending openings and exhibitions. Being involved in the community you want to work/exhibit in leads to networking, and networking and personal connections lead to tangible results. Many panelists confirmed the popular belief that a trusted personal recommendation goes farther than any resume or cover letter.

What I took away from this panel was to do your research and forge connections with people that are a good fit for you, for both a career as a museum professional or a career as an artist. The world is inundated with people looking for jobs and artists looking for galleries, and you have to find a way to distinguish yourself from the crowd.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Photos from the opening of Coupled

Wow, what a full week it has been. The opening on Friday was absolutely packed! Thank you so much to everyone who came. I had the chance to meet so many new people as well as see a lot of old friends.

I was excited that quite a few of the people in the project came to the opening, and I tried my best to get a picture of them in front of their photo. It was wonderful to see so many familiar faces, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the reactions of people in the gallery when they spotted the real life version of a couple on the wall walking around the gallery.

Below are a few snapshots from the opening as well as images of many of the couples in front of their photo.

Me and Arlette

Shellburne and me

Triiibe looking at the polaroid book

Anna and me

Jen, Dani, and me

Me with my mom and Chris

Susan in front of her photo

Leigh and Jennifer in front of their photo

Karen and Michelle in front of their photo

My mom and Chris in front of their photo

Jen and Christine in front of their photo

Dani and Jen in front of their photo

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A preview of Coupled

I was at Gallery Kayafas last night while my show was being hung, and I snapped a few photos as a preview. Hope to see you there tomorrow at the opening from 5:30-8:00.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I'm not weird, apparently.

This week's edition of the Weekly Dig came out this morning. Check out writer Kathlee Cleveland's article about Coupled.

Read it here or, see it below:

Gender.... Transcended

By Kathlee Cleveland

Jess Dugan is not weird. In fact, Dugan might be the most normal person I know—the gifted photographer has a masters degree and divorced parents. At this point, Dugan considers herself pretty normal, too. But this realization took many years, many photographs and a move out east to achieve.

Dugan refuses to identify as any specific gender, and though born biologically female, prefers to remain androgynously transgendered. While the concept of ambiguous, trans and queer identity is certainly familiar to Boston, a city with an active and growing LGBT community, Dugan grew up in Little Rock, Ark., where conservative ideologies weren't as accepting ... to say the least.

"I've still always been attracted to things that are really Southern," Dugan says. "I guess that's me trying to figure out what I am so nostalgic about in that place, but also knowing that I couldn't be who I am, as an artist and as a queer person. There's no box for me in those people's minds."

Many of Dugan's past works feature the South, and more specifically, the artist's father, who still lives there with his collection of rifles, which he takes "everywhere." "I do have a lot of love for [my father] despite our cultural differences. So, all of the images [of him] are kind of loving but different," Dugan says. "I'm very interested in photographing both of my parents because I feel very much like both of them, then not at the same time. What parts of me are my mom and what parts of me are my father? I think everyone does that on an intellectual level, but I do it in my work."

This approach to self-exploration exists throughout Dugan's collection, entitledCoupled, as each portrait features a couple that Dugan describes as "queer, with some connection to female identity." Some couples are lesbian identified, some f-to-m transgendered, some m-to-f, but all of the subjects are captured with the same lighting, same framing and similar poses, building an interesting and complex collection.

Dugan decided to shoot this way to have the opportunity to use MassArt's giant Polaroid camera, one of five in the world, though it provided limited options for styling. Some of the subjects are friends—one features her mother and her partner—and others are strangers, but all feel similarly personal and candid. "At first it was about the couples as people," she says, "then it became a slice of the culture that you could look at and examine. It's a very classical style. It's not confrontational, it's approachable."

With the gay community's constant struggle for marriage rights (everywhere but here), Dugan's work is undeniably appropriate. Politics and art are often polarizing, but the collection still conveys a political message on a very personal level by focusing on the individual instead of a message. "There's so many representations of trans people," Dugan says. "My best reaction, as basic as it is, is when someone realizes that trans people are human."












Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Getting ready for a show

It's been a busy few weeks getting ready for the opening of Coupled. Luckily, I am not doing the framing myself, so that takes a huge burden off of my shoulders.

Sometimes I forget how much goes into getting ready for a show- generating press, mailing invitations, updating my press book and website.

With only a few days to go, I am passing the mad frenzy preparation phase and am able to just be excited. Be on the lookout for an article in the Dig this week- they always write great stuff, so I can't wait to see.

Hope to see you all on Friday.