Renowned photographer Jess T. Dugan said she uses photography to understand herself and the world around her in a speech she gave at AU on Feb. 19.
“I hope that my work provides representation for people within the community and … [educates] people outside of the community,” Dugan said.
The night, co-sponsored by Photo Collective, the AU Photography Program, the School of Communication Diversity Committee, the Center for Diversity & Inclusion, AU Student Media and AU PRIDE, started with Dugan’s introduction of her background, upbringing and transition. She then discussed her work over the past decade, her motivations and the turning points of her career.
In 2010, Dugan said she started to focus on people within the transmasculine community in her photography because she felt it was the community she was most intimately a part of, she said. It also allowed her to broaden her interest in masculinity.
When she planned to photograph her project “Every Breath We Drew” in 2011, Dugan said she realized her interest had shifted.
“I was no longer thinking about trying to make photographs within one particular group or identity,” Dugan said. “I was thinking about the process that we each go through to come to know our authentic selves and then the way we connect with other people from that place.”
After her revelation, Dugan said she realized that the more she shares her own story, the more people would like to share their stories too.
“Because I’ve been making work of my own story for so long, it’s affected how I view myself and the way in which I’m able to interact with other people,” Dugan said. “I do find sharing my own story really encourages other people to share their stories with me, [which] is meaningful and significant.”
Matt Francisco, co-director of Photo Collective, said he thinks her work is especially important for students of communities that are underrepresented.
“It’s important to bring someone who is clearly being successful [and] doing something that is important to her not only on the academic level but also on the very personal level,” Francisco said.
One of the audience members, Kim Llerena, is a lecturer in AU’s film and media arts program who teaches a class on the history of photography. Llerena said she’s been familiar with Dugan’s work for several years and planned to invite Dugan to be a guest speaker for her class.
“She was a wonderful speaker because she was so articulate about her subject matter because she gets to know her portrait subject so intimately,” Llerena said. “I appreciate that she had that kind of firsthand intimate knowledge of people that she works with to make the picture, which makes a good role of artist talk.”
Dugan said after the event that she thinks the LGBTQ+ community has made a significant amount of progress in many ways, but that there is still more education and work to be done.
“This political moment has reinforced my commitment to my work and has reminded me why it’s so important,” Dugan said. “I think that living with … a more conservative environment has made the work I’m doing even more important.”