Coming of age as a young queer person, nonbinary photographer, Jess T. Dugan remembers the profound effect of seeing images of LGBTQ+ people and communities in fine art photography after going so long without seeing them in the broader culture.
Recognising the ways in which representation and visibility shape our sense of self and the world in which we live, Dugan set out to create To Survive On This Shore – an inclusive look at older transgender adults across the United States. “The strong response to the work confirmed that people were hungry for these kinds of images,” they say.
With their new book, Look at me like you love me (MACK), Dugan now turns inward for an intimate exploration of identity, relationships, and desire. Bringing together a selection of recent photographs from their long-term project, Every Breath We Drew, Dugan combines portraits and still life images with personal writings about love, connection, loss, healing, family, and self-knowledge.
“For me, the pursuit of living an authentic life, of seeking expansive and inclusive love, has run alongside loss: the loss of family, of acceptance, of an easy path, of friends,” they say. “But, the other side of this loss is an urgency to live authentically, to seek beauty and liberation and self-expression and intimacy.”
Look at me like you love me explores questions of personhood in an effort to understand what it means to be one’s true self on your own or in a relationship; be it romantic, platonic, familial, or communal. For the book, Dugan selected portraits that spoke of the connections they have made with their partner Vanessa, and close friends, as well as people they met in passing that they’d wanted to get to know better through the act of making photographs.
“I’m drawn to people who possess a certain kind of energy: a gentleness, an assuredness in themselves, a combination of strength and vulnerability, a willingness and ability to be truly present and to engage with me on a deep emotional level,” they say. Dugan works slowly and collaboratively with their subjects so that each portrait becomes a fusion of artist and sitter.
The photographs are accompanied by Dugan’s poetic passages penned between March and September 2021. “I’m in my mid-thirties, I have a family, I have a child. I’m asking different questions than I was asking in my early 20s,” they say.
“The texts come from a place of heightened self-reflection; some focus on specific memories, some on why I’m compelled to make photographs, while others focus explicitly on desire.”
Ultimately, Look at me like you love me is a testament to the universal need to be seen, cared for, celebrated, and loved for who we are. “We are all magical, beautiful, and enough,” Dugan says. “I want my subjects to feel that way when I photograph them and I want viewers to feel that way, too. At its core, my photography is a validation of life.”
Look at me like you love me is out now on MACK Books.