Photographer Spotlight – Jess T. Dugan
Tell us about yourself…
I grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, came of age in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and currently live in St. Louis, Missouri with my partner Vanessa, our daughter Elinor, and our cat Leopold. I have always been interested in photography, but I wasn’t exposed to it in a formal way until I was in high school. It has been a love affair ever since. I have an MFA and a BFA in photography and currently work as a self-employed artist.
Your work explores issues of identity. Can you share with us what that means to you?
Sure! My creative practice centers around an exploration of identity – particularly gender and sexuality – through photographic portraiture. Drawing from my experience as a queer, non-binary person, my work is motivated by an existential need to understand and express myself and to connect with others. When I was coming out as a young queer person, I didn’t see myself represented in the broader culture. I first discovered images of queer and gender-expansive people in fine art photography books, and this discovery was profoundly influential to me. One of my primary aims as an artist is to create, exhibit, and publish photographs depicting queer experiences to fill society’s gap in representations of these lived experiences and embodiments.
Who are some of your favorite photographers? (Past or Present)
I love and respect so many photographers, but if I had to choose a few favorites, they would be: Catherine Opie, Diane Arbus, Dawoud Bey, Harry Callahan, Peter Hujar, Collier Schorr, and August Sander.
You use a Hasselblad camera system – why is it your camera system of choice?
I have been photographing with a Hasselblad system since I made the switch from film (4 x 5) to digital in 2013. I used an H4D-31 for seven years and I recently switched to the X1D-II. I was drawn to Hasselblad cameras because of their image quality and intelligent, intuitive design; I was also drawn to the aspect ratio, which is very similar to 4 x 5 film, and to the color handling and dynamic range. I especially love the X1D and have been absolutely thrilled with the photographs I’ve been able to make with it thus far.
Can you describe a photographically challenging situation that you were confronted with that you were able to resolve on the fly?
Because I photograph people, there is almost always an element of a shoot that I can’t predict ahead of time. I am always responding to the energy of the person, the environment, and the (sometimes very quickly shifting) light. Particularly when I’m photographing early or late in the day, I often have to resolve multiple elements of an image very quickly or I risk missing the shot.
You’ve written a number of published books, can you share some insight into those?
I have two monographs of my work, Every Breath We Drew (Daylight Books, 2015) and To Survive on This Shore: Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Older Adults (Kehrer Verlag, 2018). Every Breath We Drew is sold out, and To Survive on This Shore is currently in its second printing.
I love photography books and always conceptualize my projects as both a book and an exhibition. Books are wonderfully democratic and are a fantastic way to make work available for a relatively affordable price.
Your work has been shown in a number of museums and galleries, can you share some details on that?
I have worked with commercial galleries since the very beginning of my career, joining my first gallery at the age of 21, and I am currently represented by the Catherine Edelman Gallery in Chicago, IL. Early on, I identified museums as the ideal home for my work; it has been my goal over the past fifteen years to place my work in museum collections where it will be seen, used for education, and included in the scholarship.
I regularly exhibit my work in both museums and galleries throughout the United States. My project To Survive on This Shore is currently on view in solo exhibitions at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in Minneapolis, MN, and at the Photographic Center Northwest in Seattle, WA. I’m currently working towards a solo exhibition of new work from Every Breath We Drew at the St. Louis Art Museum in St. Louis, MO, opening in September of 2021.
What is your favorite underrated photographic tool? Why?
I’m not sure if it’s underrated, but I’d say the reflector. It’s the only equipment I use, other than my camera and a tripod.
If you were behind your camera and could choose anything you wanted to be in your viewfinder, where would you be and what would you be looking at?
Honestly, I’m always most excited about the person, or people, I’m currently photographing; I’d choose a new subject that I found intriguing.
Why did you select Capture Integration as your equipment partner?
When I was considering making the transition from film to digital, I was introduced to Steve Hendrix by a fellow photographer. Long before I had purchased anything, Steve spent hours with me on the phone going over all of my options and helping me determine the right system for me and my work. Since then, I have purchased two camera systems from Capture Integration and recommend CI (and Steve specifically!) to all of my friends and colleagues. I really appreciate that Steve is there for me anytime I have an issue or a question; it’s a wonderful gift to have such a caring partner in the industry.