Photographer Jess T. Dugan Explores the Identity, Desire, and Connection of Their Subjects

By on June 17th, 2024 in The Collection at Rollins Museum of Art

Jess T. Dugan is a photographer whose work largely focuses on members of the LGBTQ+ community. Dugan makes photographic portraits that explore issues of gender, sexuality, identity, and community from a highly individual and humanistic point of view.

Dugan combines formal portraits, images of couples, self-portraits, and photographs of their own romantic relationship to investigate broader themes of identity and connection while also speaking to private, individual experience. The photographs of men and masculine individuals act as a kind of mirror; they depict the type of gentle masculinity Dugan is attracted to, yet also the kind they want to embody. Similarly, the photographs of relationships speak to a drive to be seen, understood, and desired through the eyes of another person; a reflection of the self as the ultimate intimate connection.


Betsy is a part of Dugan’s ongoing series Every breath we drew, which they started in 2011. In this series, Dugan depicts people with a variety of gender identities and sexual orientations, challenging the viewer to reflect on their own conceptions of identity. 

By revealing only the first name of the subjects and taking the pictures in personal spaces, such as their homes, Dugan encourages the viewer to connect with the subject(s) and look beyond their LGBTQ+ identity, seeing them as simply human. In many of their photographs the sitter gazes directly at the viewer.

When you gaze back at Betsy, who do you see? 

Jess T. Dugan (American, b. 1986) Betsy, 2013, Pigment print, 20 x 24 in., Museum purchase with funds from the Diversity Council of Rollins College 2014.6

Erica and Krista

Jess T. Dugan (American, b. 1986), Erica and Krista, 2012 Pigment print 25 1/4 x 20 1/4 x 1 3/8 in. The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art, Rollins Museum of Art, Gift of Barbara ’68 and Theodore ’68 Alfond, 2015.1.46. © Jess T. Dugan.

To depict the relationship between Erica and Krista, Dugan uses a diptych format which highlights each subject’s individuality. The two photographs are intimately connected, however, by each of their hands reaching into the other’s space. It is no longer two separate portraits, but a unified composition sealed by the tight yet gentle grasp of their hands.

Jess T. Dugan: Every breath we drew

Dugan’s solo exhibition Every breath we drew , opened in In August of 2015 at Rollins Museum of Art (formerly Cornell Fine Arts Museum) and featuring portraits of Dugan and others.

Dugan photographs people in their homes, often in their bedrooms, using medium and large format cameras to create a deep, sustained engagement, resulting in intimate and detailed portraits.

This exhibition was accompanied by a fully illustrated book with an essay by the curator and an interview with the artist conducted by internationally-renowned photographer Dawoud Bey. Read more about this exhibition in an article by the Orlando Weekly.

Jess T. Dugan In Their Own Words

Jess T. Dugan shares insights into their work in Every breath we drew at Rollins Museum of Art.

In Our eyes: Women, Nonbinary, and Transgender Perspectives from The Collection

In 2023, Jess T. Dugan’s portraits were on view in In Our eyes: Women, Nonbinary, and Transgender Perspectives from The Collection. This exhibition at Rollins Museum of Art had two iterations, the first featured Betsy, the second included Erica and Krista. View both exhibitions virtually below.

Front view of the Rollins Museum of Art brown buiilding

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