Sunday, 18 October 2015

Breathtaking: Every breath we drew, by Jess T. Dugan (2011-)

Self-portrait (truck) 2012
A spontaneous trip to the small but perfectly formed gallery threw up a wonderful treat for us to enjoy.  The photographs were stunning.  It was an exhibition I had not planned to see, but am delighted to have done so.

Jess' work speaks volumes to me without saying a word.  Her engagement with her subjects gently invites her audience's participation without making any demands.  

It is powerful and provocative, threatening nothing except a preconception.  It is challenging but throws down no gauntlets.  It is as though she intended any consequences to be thoroughly conscious and wholly consensual.

Art is the sex of the imagination
George Jean Nathan

Jess and Vanessa, 2013

The images are, I think, a wonderfully colourful depiction of gender, sexuality and love.  The fluidity of each concept is given vast space to find both shape and form, and you can make of that what you will.  I stood back, and then came forward, relating to what it was I saw at first glance, before meeting the subjects, as though for a second time.

Self-portrait, 2014
The encounter was as enthralling as it was refreshing.  I could have stayed much longer, were it not for the aggressive air conditioning.  The images invited a dialogue that continued long after we left.  They had inspired and uplifted.  

Dugan makes bold statements gently.  The subjects have been captured as possessing something I know to be terribly rare and frighteningly precious:  they seemed blissfully and universally comfortable inhabiting their own skin.   They are true to themselves, and request to be met right there.  

Artist's statement for the exhibition
Every breath we drew (2011- ) 

Every breath we drew explores the power of identity, desire, and connection through portraits of myself 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. 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.

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

By asking others to be vulnerable with me through the act of being photographed, I am laying claim to what I find beautiful and powerful while asking larger questions about how identity is formed, desire is expressed, and intimate connection is sought.

About the artist Jess T. Dugan

Background:  Self-portrait (muscle shirt) 2013

Saturday, 17 October 2015

C is for...

I was sad and probably slightly relieved to discover it was no longer available on iPlayer.  I had read the glowing reviews of the BBC's adaptation of Lisa Lynch's book of the same name.  I didn't expect it to feature as one of my in-flight movie choices but am glad it did...

Sheridan Smith as Lisa Lynch in 'The C-Word' (2015)
Lisa's journey was hers and hers alone.  Yet there are clear resemblances to a journey of someone I hold very dear, whose  own courage and graceful determination continue to humble me on a daily basis.  

Watching the 90 minute feature sitting amongst strangers, each busily entertaining themselves as we crossed the Atlantic was an experience I am unlikely to forget in a hurry.  My anonymity meant that my tears fell silently and, I imagine, largely unnoticed.  And yet it felt difficult: I wanted to insist everyone behold this wonderful portrayal, and soak up the many reminders it contains for those of us who live beyond the shade of a cancer diagnosis.  

Cancer arrived without warning in my life at the beginning of 2012 soon after my best friend learnt of her diagnosis.  Her treatment journey began almost immediately, and life took on a different meaning.  

Life has demanded I come to understand rather sooner than perhaps I might otherwise have done: that it is defined not by duration but by what you do with it...  And, this is where I felt the most resonance with the story of a stranger that unfolded on the tiny screen in front of me at 30,000 ft.

Because for my best friend, the "Bullshit" (or Alien) has been given a serious run for its money.  Just last weekend, the Bullshit gave rise to an epic feat, in the form of the Guy's Urban Challenge.

The Guy's Urban Challenge:
a 2.4k run, 15k stationary cycle and climb to the 29th floor
In January, we talked a little more than we walked as we popped out for some fresh air.  There had been several long weeks spent in hospital during which drains hung from each of her lungs.  The Bullshit had caused untold chaos over Christmas, but was soon put in her place as chemo recommenced.  

9 months on, and climbing the 628 stairs to the top of the 29 floor Tower at Guy's, the world's tallest hospital building, were no match for the awesomeness that is my best friend's amazing attitude.

It was thinking of the many, many things my best friend has achieved since cancer made its unwelcome entrance that started me off...  The Bullshit Alien continues to be a part of our lives.  But she is precisely that: a part of our lives.  Life has continued.  Parts of life have continued just as they might have done had she not come blundering in.  And other parts have looked really very different to what anyone might reasonably have expected.  And that's just the way it is.  The point is, that the Bullshit Alien is kept firmly in her place.

Extracts from 'The C-Word', by Lisa Lynch:

I don’t want to be told that losing my hair will give me extra time in bed in the morning when I’d otherwise have been blow-drying, or that buying a range of wigs will give me the chance to try out different personalities in the bedroom (both of which I read in an ‘uplifting compilation of quotes’ from breast cancer survivors).

Nor do I want to give anyone else that impression. It’s irresponsible and, frankly, it’s complete crap — even before I’d experienced any of the things they were talking about, I knew that wasn’t how it was going to be. I’d have given up all the lie-ins in the world to keep my lovely locks. And not only do chemo drugs starve you of a sex life, but breast cancer treatment hardly does wonders for your body image either. (I don’t recall seeing a 20-something lass with a bald head and a missing boob on FHM’s 100 Sexiest Women list.)

So stuff the clich├ęd, just-not-f***ing-funny cancer quips (‘think of all the money/time/ effort you’ll save on mascara/your hair/shaving your legs’), the saccharine, truth-masking ‘information’ sheets and the earnest, life- improving self-help books. It’s time someone told it how it really is.

People keep telling me that I needn’t keep ‘being brave’ and that I ‘don’t have to feel positive all the time’ (get ‘brave’ and ‘positive’ on my most hated list IMMEDIATELY). They say whenever I want to let it all out or get really angry or have a good cry, I can talk to them. And it’s good of them to say so.

But let me say this for the record: I am not consciously being anything. I will never want to have a good cry or rant or whinge. Those things happen spontaneously: trying on pyjamas in Marks & Spencer, watering the garden, stirring my tea, blowing out a candle before I go to bed. At the moment, every reaction is spontaneous (hence a poor teenage shop assistant getting both barrels in Dixons recently).

In fact, this is the first f***ing time in my whole life when I’ve stopped giving a s**t about how I’m being, the way I’m acting or how I’m coming across to other people. Again: I am not trying to be anything. I’m just getting on with it.

None of these words, today or any other day, is for your benefit. I’m not ‘being brave’ to make you feel better. Repeat: I. Am. Not. Being. Brave. You needn’t be concerned about how I’m coping. There is no ‘how’ here. I’m just coping. There’s no good or bad way to do it. You’d cope too.