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Behold: Jess Dugan

In collaboration with Slate's photo blog, Behold, we are extending the conversation with some of their featured photographers.

Jess Dugan has often used portraiture as a way of exploring gender and sexuality. Her latest series, “Every Breath We Drew,” to be published as a monograph this fall by Daylight, is a body of work in which Dugan not only questions the definition of masculinity but also the idea of identity. Is our self defined from within or is it part of a larger question about our connection – and desire to connect - to others?  “I was trying to make something more universal than just showing a group of people who share a similar identity,” she said. “I wanted people to reflect on that process for themselves, and how we connect with people.”

Read the full Behold interview here.

 

Left:  Betsy, 2013 . Right:  Jet, 2013 .

Left: Betsy, 2013. Right: Jet, 2013.

When you first began imagining a career in photography, what did that look like? Was gallery representation or a book publication part of that vision? 

I was lucky to get gallery representation at the very beginning of my career, so in many ways, I grew up as an artist within the gallery system.  I was also lucky to be working with a gallery director who acted as a mentor to me (more about her in question 3) and who was very sensitive to my work, always privileging the integrity of the work over its marketability.

To be quite honest, I didn’t know what a career in photography would look like.  My first year out of undergrad was a rough transition, as I had lofty ideas about grants and residencies and things like that.  My undergrad faculty were all Guggenheim-winning artists, so that was the model I saw most directly.  For many years, my career involved me working a 9 to 5 job and making just enough extra money to spend every weekend in the darkroom, which I built in my studio apartment.  After several years of that, I moved from Boston to Chicago to go to grad school (lured largely by the prospect of working with Dawoud Bey, who became a very significant mentor to me).  At that point, I was more aware of what I wanted out of my career, and it certainly involved galleries and books.

I have quite a photobook addiction, and I have always loved the book form as a way to experience photographs.  My earliest, most powerful moments with photography came from seeing myself (or people like myself) reflected in photography books at a time when I didn’t see these representations anywhere else around me.  I had many profound moments sitting in the basement of the Harvard Book Store flipping through used photography books and discovering influential photographers I would come to know and love.  

I have made many artist books and self-published books over the past 6 or 7 years, but I’m currently working on my first monograph and am really excited about that.  I’m already thinking in terms of books for my next two projects, which are well underway.  

 

You're quite a prolific photographer. Talk about the importance of producing work both for yourself and for your career.

Thank you.  You know, it’s interesting that you say that I am prolific, because in some ways I don’t know what that means.  Since I discovered photography, I have been addicted, and I have somewhat obsessively been making work since then.  

Making work is the way I feel connected to the world, and also the way I make sense of my own life, my own relationship, etc.  So, I consistently and intentionally make pictures.  What’s interesting is that I don’t really make a lot of snapshots anymore- I’m not the kind of photographer who always carries a camera.  For me, making work and truly experiencing a moment are almost always mutually exclusive activities. 

In terms of my career, it certainly helps that I make a lot of work, as galleries like showing new images.  In some ways, though, it becomes its own kind of challenge to make sense of a photographic process that comes so naturally from my life.  Though I present my work in very distinct “projects,” their creation often happens simultaneously, or one project flows into another, or themes emerge from photographs I’ve been making over a period of years. 

 

What was your first big break? Describe what that meant to you and how/if your definition of "break" has changed as you continue your career.

My definition of a break has most definitely changed throughout my career.  My first big break would have to be when I met Arlette Kayafas, owner of Gallery Kayafas in Boston.  I had just graduated from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, an amazing school that I was quite lucky to attend, especially since I didn’t fully realize when I applied at the age of 16 how amazing their photography program was and how it would form the foundation of my career.  I was working at the Bernard Toale Gallery in Boston’s South End with Joseph Carroll, who now runs Carroll and Sons, and through my experience in the gallery I got to know Arlette, whose gallery was just down the block.  We formed a relationship, I showed her my work, and I had my first solo show one year later in the fall of 2008.  My relationship with her has been career-changing; she mentored me in the business of galleries, supported my work both emotionally and financially from the very beginning, and provided a consistent, meaningful place for me to get feedback and gain perspective on my work. 

That summer, I also took a part time job at the Harvard Art Museum which led to a full time job there, which led to me to spend the last eight years working in the museum field, which has also been hugely informative to my career as an artist. 

Over the years, there have been many moments I would describe as a big break, and how I define that has changed with time.  My first gallery, certainly.  My first museum acquisition.  My first solo show.  My first real collector. 

At this very moment, I am excited about being represented by the Catherine Edelman Gallery, working on my first monograph with Daylight Books (due out Sept. 2015), and working on my first solo museum exhibition with curator Amy Galpin at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College in Florida.  

 

Left:   Ryan and Josh, 2013.   Right:   Laurel, 2014.

Left: Ryan and Josh, 2013. Right: Laurel, 2014.

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LPS Spotlight: Sara Macel

Since the photographers featured in the Local Photographer Showcases in each city are supremely talented and excited about reaching new audiences with their work, we will be regularly featuring them to give you more insight into their work and their experience Crusading. Next up is Sara Macel from the Brooklyn pop-up:

Tell us a little about your background as a photographer and where you are now with your work.

Born and raised in Houston, Texas, I left home to study photography in New York when I was eighteen.  I got my undergrad BFA in Photo & Imaging at NYU in 2003 and my MFA in Photography, Video, & Related Media from SVA in 2011. Between my undergrad and graduate degrees, I worked as Bruce Davidson's studio manager and as a still photo producer at Art Department while working on my personal projects and exhibiting my work around NYC and Brooklyn.  After getting my MFA in 2011, I began teaching photography at Rockland College upstate and shooting my own editorial and advertising shoots to help support my personal work.  My first monograph, "May the Road Rise to Meet You," is coming out in Sept 2013 from Daylight Books.  There's going to be a big launch party and panel talk on Sept. 21, 2013 at United Photo Industries, and I'm kicking off the exhibition and book tour with a show at Daylight's project space in Hillsborough, NC in late Sept-early Oct.

How did you hear about the Crusade, and what were your initial impressions?

I met Jennifer at Fotofest in 2012.  She wasn't on my list of reviewers, but I knew about her and her gallery and wanted to make that connection, so I emailed her before the event asking if she could make a little time for me, and she was so gracious and said yes.  During our meeting, she gave me some of the most helpful and honest advice I got the whole review and helped connect me with David Bram of Fraction Magazine who then featured my work in Issue 39.  In the months that followed, Jennifer and David invited me to their Flash Powder retreat in Astoria, which I attended earlier this year.  I knew about the Crusade from the beginning and followed its adventures, but it was at the retreat that I got to meet Lady Blue and become even more invested in supporting Jennifer and her vision.  I was so happy when Jennifer asked me to take part in the Brooklyn Crusade soon after getting home from Astoria.  I think it's a really creative way to get people into the idea of collecting art and meeting artists.  And most artists I know are eager to build an audience for their work but not really sure where to start.  I knew it might be a little awkward to walk up to a stranger on the street and say "Are you interested in collecting some art for free today?" And it was!  But it was also a great exercise in practicing my "elevator pitch" and hang out more with Jennifer, which is my definition of a win-win.

Were you excited to participate in the Local Photographer Showcase?  Why or why not?

Hell yeah! I love being part of Lady Blue's journey. It taught me a lot about creating your own buzz and finding ways to reach people so that they too become invested in your project.  With my book coming out in September, it was fun to tell random people on the street about it.  I brought a notebook and got names and emails of the folks I talked to about my work.  For the people who walked away with my print, that's just even more incentive for them to check out and hopefully buy the book when it comes out.

How did the event go for you?  Was it like you expected or different?  Better or worse?  

It was disappointing that the van couldn't join us in Brooklyn for mechanical reasons, but overall I was really excited about the people I met and who walked away with my prints.  The first couple I met and shared my work with already collect photography from local DUMBO photo gallery Klompching, so that was great!  And right after I talked with them for a few minutes, I met a female artist and we talked about making work and getting it out in the world.  Despite the heat, I met some great people and really enjoyed hanging out with my fellow artists and Jennifer. The post-Crusade drink with the gang was also a highlight.

What do you hope will come out of the experience for you - personally and professionally?  Do you think those are realistic expectations?

Jennifer is a powerhouse of great ideas, so it was worth it just to talk with her more about my book project and brainstorm ways of spreading the word about that.  By getting contact details for the people I met, I helped grow my audience for future events, books, and shows.  And if a print sale comes from this, that would just be the cherry on top of the sundae.  In the end, I just like being part the Crusade for Collecting family, and if any future collectors come out of it, great!

Tell us about the image you gave away at the event and how to see more of your work.

The image I contributed is from my series "May the Road Rise to Meet You." The project is about my father's life on the road selling telephone poles, and the image, titled "Recognition Lifts the Human Spirit, Spring, Texas," is a bird's-eye view of his desk at home.  The title of this image comes from an inspirational phrase he wrote to himself on his day planner. More info about the book can be found on my website www.saramacel.com and at www.maytheroadrisetomeetyou.com. The book launch party will be Sept. 21 in Brooklyn at United Photo Industries, and all summer until October you can see images from my series "Rodeo Texas" along The Fence at Brooklyn Bridge Park (http://fence.photovillenyc.org/) sponsored by Photoville and UPI. Please sign up for my mailing list on my website for more updates and follow me on Instagram and Twitter @saramacel.

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