Jess T. Dugan: Every breath we drew, now showing at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum

by Ivan Riascos

“It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”

-James Brown­

What does it take to be a man or male in this world? Is it a physical form that includes a penis, facial hair, and muscles? Is it established in the DNA where the X and Y have been determined since conception? Is it the level of Testosterone? Is it being a responsible husband and father by making sure your family is taken care of? Is it making sure you have a male offspring to carry the family name? Or is it the way you identify yourself? Currently in the news we have witnessed the transformation of Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner and the issue of transgender has been a hot topic. I don’t want Jenner’s transformation to be the reason for this discussion, but what makes a person identify himself as a male?

Jess T. Dugan’s portraits pose this question to the viewer.   As you stand in the center of the room you notice the majority of the images are portraits looking at you. Affirming silently “I am a male.” The sitter lets us see a vulnerable side of them, but Dugan is not victimizing them. You witness various types of men of different ages, ethnicity and stages of gender, in different settings, and various postures from confident, sexy, masculine, and intimate. They are all men, but like I have previously asked, what makes a man a male? Or a male a man? Is a man who shoots blanks any less a man than one who is attracted to men? I do not have any answers to these questions, but Dugan’s work opens a dialog on various issues of transgender, and male identity. Is it culture’s perception or definition that determines what it means to be a male? Or is it the man as an individual coming to terms and acknowledging his maleness? Dugan’s photos have references to Caravaggio, Manet, Renoir, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres. The images do not feel staged or documental; Dugan tightly controls the sitters, and what is included, or not included in the frame. Overall the images are wonderful and beautiful, and these portraits reflect present day issues of self and identity.

For more info on the show:

Also there will be an artist take for more info: