Jess Dugan explores power of identity, desire and connection in ‘Every Breath We Drew’

"Dallas Lying on the Bed" by Jess Dugan

“Dallas Lying on Bed,” 2012, is one of the photographs included in a new exhibition at UMSL’s Gallery 210. (Images courtesy of artist Jess Dugan)

Jess T. Dugan’s photography is “a courageous and tender presentation of the boundlessness of love.”

That’s according to Terry Suhre, director of Gallery 210 at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, where Dugan’s work is in the spotlight for the next month.

“Self-Portrait (muscle shirt),” 2013

“Self-Portrait (muscle shirt),” 2013

Suhre and Gallery 210 are presenting the first-ever St. Louis exhibition of Dugan’s art, which embodies an expansive concept of gender. Titled “Every Breath We Drew,” the show runs through Oct. 7 and includes photographs as well as a new video piece, “Letter to My Father.”

In her artist statement, Dugan notes that “Every Breath We Drew” explores the power of identity, desire and connection through portraits of herself and others.

“Working within the framework of queer experience and from my actively constructed sense of masculinity, my portraits examine the intersection between private, individual identity and the search for intimate connection with others,” Dugan writes. “I photograph people in their homes, often in their bedrooms, using medium and large format cameras to create a deep, sustained engagement, resulting in an intimate and detailed portrait.”

In the video piece she recounts the difficulties that have accompanied her personal search for authenticity. The exhibition is also accompanied by an illustrated catalog with an essay by Allison Grant, an artist, educator and curator based in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

“Betsy,” 2013

“Betsy,” 2013

The show, which is supported by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, the Center for the Humanities at UMSL and the university’s College of Arts and Sciences, gets underway at 4 p.m. Sept. 9 with a lecture in the Gallery 210 Auditorium, located on UMSL’s North Campus. A reception, from 5 to 7 p.m., will immediately follow Dugan’s talk.

Dugan holds an MFA in photography from Columbia College Chicago, a Master of Liberal Arts degree in museum studies from Harvard University and a BFA in photography from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

Her work has been exhibited internationally at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, the Aperture Foundation, the San Diego Museum of Art, the Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College, the Catherine Edelman Gallery, the Griffin Museum of Photography and at many colleges and universities nationwide. It has also been featured in the New York Times, The Advocate, Slate, The Huffington Post, the Boston Globe and on CNN.

Dugan’s photographs are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Harvard Art Museums, the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Grand Rapids Art Museum, the Cornell Fine Arts Museum and the Alfond Collection at Rollins College, the DePaul Art Museum, Fidelity Investments, JP Morgan Chase and the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction.

For more information about “Every Breath We Drew,” see the Gallery 210 website.

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