Think of a man - I mean a real dude kind of guy. Masculinity drums up a
certain image, specific ideas and blunt mannerisms. A portrait of that man can
strip away assumptions and allow for a much more fleshed out identity. Most of
gender is read through parts of a person's body. That body becomes fleshy and naked in its insecurity, or maybe not, it can be in a persons mind and the pieces
arbitrary. Jess T. Dugan's project and new book Every Breath
We Drew deals with these issues. What is gender? How is masculinity defined?
Through Dugan's subjects she is able to establish intimate relationships; each
individual bares their experience, there's a huge sense of comfort. Dugan's
portraits build; some of the subjects have been totally marginalized by society,
many of the people in the photos are given new voice, they are dynamic.
Every Breath We Drew is a collection of
people of all different sizes, shapes, backgrounds, orientations and identifications.
Dugan is fascinated by masculinity and capturing what she refers to as "vulnerable masculinity." "I find all of
my subjects myself. It's hard to say exactly what it is that qualifies them.
Something about my initial reaction to them." The process every step of the way
is about this kind of personal intimacy. Dugan is very involved and an integral
part of the photographic narrative. She uses self-portraits throughout the body
of work; they become a constant. With Dugan as the familiar face
throughout the photos she turns into a representation of the identifiable self.
Dugan becomes anyone, in this way the viewer is interjected into the narrative
through her. Suddenly her subjects are more noticeably looking at you. The
conversation evolves, as the viewer is able to take control of the portraits.
is a huge sense of community given the nature of the images. How does a person come into their body while also connecting with others? The source of this inquiry can
be open ended; after all, it's highly individualized and deals in the self. The
images keep pushing on a desire to seek a genteel masculinity. Dugan stresses that there
is a need to redefine; masculinity is more expansive than commonly understood. The
self is a starting point, as the subjects allow their comfort to creep in, more
information is revealed. Light and pose play into these peoples places. All of
Dugan's images are crafted in the subject's home where they could be most
susceptible to allowing an authentic moment to play out. Dugan's frames are
slow, the thinking and consideration to the environment is evident, and each
moment retains a charged emotion.
Ryan and Josh, 2013
Every Breath We
Drew has a very concise interest, however it's crafted by a broad pressing
of intent. The portraits are full of unexpected juxtapositions. People are somber, they are gay, they are with child, and without specificity. A person is a glorious hairy mess. And even though
the work is very interconnected to the LGBT community the feeling of the work
goes deeper than assumptions, conditions, or titles. It should be
said that it doesn't matter who these people love or how they love, it's how they
pose themselves that allows them to be themselves.
all images © Jess T. Dugan
and woman-with-sense-of-humour Christine Anderson
has put together a charming limited edition book called "Wizard
." It is somewhat an ode to her current, beloved mechanic (who presumably has never given her the sharp intake of breath and "that'll cost you darling/love/lady/ma'am").
I love this! See? You really don't need to stray too far from home to make a fabulous project happen.
"I love my car. I hate my car.
I hate my car. I love my car.
After 14 years and 78,000 miles my car - a green Volkswagen Beetle - is still cute despite worn seats and pitted exterior. I don't blame her for breaking down once in a while. Really, I don't. You see, I'm a sentimental person. We have bonded and mostly I like to think of her as vintage rather than old. It makes me feel better about our relationship."
"Over the years, many mechanics have serviced the car. Kal, our current mechanic, has a way of giving me bad news without making me feel bad. His manner and his expertise inspired me to create the pictures featured in Wizard. Kal is a lot like the Wizard from the Wizard of Oz story and I am perhaps a bit like Dorothy in the story. I bring my broken down car for repair and he fixes the car and sends us on our way. Dorothy, of course, sends herself home with the Ruby Slippers and eventually I will find my way to a new car. But for now I am thankful the Wizard is here keeping my car and me together.
Kal allowed me to photograph his shop during working hours, giving me access to premises, people, and auto parts. This book is a portrait of Kal's car repair shop loosely based on the Wizard of Oz story enhanced with my own creative inspirations."
Examples of the book's layout
© John Arsenault, "Silhouette of a Leatherman," 2012, Archival pigment print, Courtesy of ClampArt, New York City
If you've ever taken a trip through
New England, Cape Cod or Provincetown, it goes with out saying you know
something about the quality of light out there. Those tender revealing hues of
light, and the color blue like nothing else you've ever seen; everything's
rich. That light and those blues, touch every inch of you - every inch of
everything. You can't be out there and not think about Edward Hopper's
paintings. John Arsenault's work is a lot like them, if Edward Hopper had a
hidden closest full of good shoes, leather, and a cache of kinky friends.
Similarly to Hopper, Arsenault has that sense of light and surrealism. His
subjects don't simply pose, they penetrate their frames. What on earth could
they possibly be thinking about?
What's on anyone's mind at the Eagle in LA?
© John Arsenault, "Exit (Self Portrait)," 2012
Arsenault spent the better part of two years as "barmaid," as he
lovingly refers to it, at the Eagle in LA. "A very unexpected chance." He tells
me. Lucky for us he had his smartphone camera during his time there from 2012 to 2013. The man has made
smartphone cameras an art. On a personal note, I couldn't thank him enough for
that. It's hard to believe, but no denying, the man can take the piss out of a
photograph. Touching light bleeds in the darkness of the bar. Casting hues and
dimension over bodies and surfaces. Piercing the point of vision. These
photographs are as rich as they are intimate. The bar is transformed, more
Matisse in color and treatment than one would expect for a watering-hole
suck-shack like the Eagle. For anyone who is familiar with the Eagle, LA's or
otherwise, they may find the beginning of that metaphor an alarmingly unlikely
possibility. It comes highly suggested that the photos be seen - by way of
Arsenault's show Barmaid at ClampArt gallery, in New York - or by grabbing a
copy of his new monograph, of the same title, published by Daylight. The
proof's in the seeing of Arsenault's work.
© John Arsenault, "Parachutes (Self Portrait)," 2012
"It's so important to me to be open
to the gray areas of my life. At first I didn't see photographing the Eagle as
a project unto itself. I fell into bar backing totally by chance. As I got to
know the people there I felt a commitment to them, myself, and this story."
Arsenault's work has always been very rooted in the self and the work is diaristic. It's interesting to note both the love and care in the
photo's, and the way Arsenault talks about them, and his experience. He's
always sought out this intimacy, with people, with place, with light. Oh, that
light. You don't need him to tell you his influence, the painterliness, and
gesture are clear. He has taken an otherwise cacophonous escapade and quieted
it down. Arsenault is a keeper of moments and tensions before, or maybe just
after something wonderful, something sexual, something depraved or totally
unforgettable. The environment becomes isolated and calmness sets in. But in
the dark of the bar there is never a complete assurance of that controlled
Eagle provided Arsenault with an opportunity to be a little out of place, maybe
very out of place. "At first I would come to work with this ideal of what I
should be or look like. And I realized I didn't need to pretend, it's more
important to hold onto myself." It's pretty easy to get sucked into the
atmosphere of a place, you walk different, you move different, and sometimes
you are able to forget everything just to fit in. People showing up and being
who they are and not some list of ideals is Arsenault's strongest message. It's
good to keep that in mind. The Eagle is full of vice, and it's the individual
people, the dark corners, and intimate moments that make it what it is.
© John Arsenault, "Sister Candy Cide," 2013
© John Arsenault, "Turned Off," 2012
© John Arsenault, "Exterior Landscape Number Two," 2012
© John Arsenault, "Exterior Landscape Number One," 2013
© John Arsenault, "Praying for Tomorrow," 2012
© John Arsenault, "Rose in a Bottle," 2013,
All images Archival pigment prints, Courtesy of ClampArt, New York City
's The Phone Book is one of the first photography books that features photographs taken entirely on an iPhone, with the Hipstamatic app. The book is squarely packed with photographs our observer made on the streets both at home in NYC and abroad.
The Phone Book by Robert Herman, is out now from Schiffer Publishing
, in time for the holidays.
Face in the window, Battery Park City, New York