In the artist’s latest photobook, Look at me like you love me, being seen is replaced with the urgency of living
I’ve always thought about Jess T. Dugan’s practice as a form of wayfinding. They are invested in the urgent work of queer visibility, speaking through themes of identity, sexuality and desire with profound intimacy. Dugan’s images are cathartic for both viewer and artist. Image after image, they assert identity. Dugan is direct in their mission to confront the viewer, reclaim space and revel in the act of being seen. In this deeply personal act, the American artist animates the possibility of a creative life as a space to lens and write yourself in.
In their latest book, Look at me like you love me, published by Mack, Dugan transcends to a new plain. Being seen is replaced with the urgency of living. We meet their subjects fully embodied, grounded in a profound understanding of self, captivated by the ways our identities are validated through relationships. “The book came out of a very specific moment,” Dugan shares. “The pandemic had a huge influence on my work, practically on my photographs, but more so psychologically. I was reflecting on my own identity, how I’m ageing, thinking about being a parent and how it has affected how I think about my own personhood.”
“Everyone in this book is someone I felt a magnetic pull towards. There is a desire to be close, to look, to see how that person looks at me, and see how we intersect. It’s a complicated play of desire, and photography is my anchor through this”
Dugan’s photographs are modes of radical care. The collaborations are so nuanced and multifaceted, they hold history while enabling new futures to unfold. Gentle gestures manifest as a visual poem – structured not in chapters, but verses. The book is reflective and subtle; it is more akin to meditation.
Inside, Dugan holds space to constellate the complexity of a life lived through the people and relationships that shape who they are. Making demands on both thinking and feeling, the photographs speak to those precious moments of embracing selfhood with greater acuity. Despite its often precarious circumstances, the book is an active affirmation of queer consciousness.
Most importantly, Look at me like you love me is a book that tries to describe desire and contain it. Honouring its multifaceted manifestations, Dugan marvels at the power of relationships.
“The work speaks to me and my desires and how they intersect with other people’s identities and desires,” they share. “Everyone in this book is someone I felt a magnetic pull towards. There is a desire to be close, to look, to see how that person looks at me, and see how we intersect. It’s a complicated play of desire, and photography is my anchor through this.”
In her 2019 book Whose Story Is This?, the writer and activist Rebecca Solnit offered the idea that “transformations are perhaps most important when they are most subtle.” This truth reverberates through every page of Dugan’s book. Together they illuminate how revelations are born through a million small encounters and go on to recalibrate who we are.
“It’s not easy, being you and me.” Dugan writes in the book. “The world pushes against us, asks us to roughen the parts that are tender, requires us to codeswitch and self protect. We spend a lifetime learning that what we know to be true is not what others hope for. But the pull is too great, the cost of turning away too high, and so we forge ahead shoulder the loss, embrace the growth.”