Look at Me Like You Love Me – An Elegy About Intimacy by Jess T. Dugan

How was the idea of the book born?
Look at me like you love me is a collection of new photographs and writings from my long-term project, Every Breath We Drew, which looks at the intersection of individual identity and the need for connection with others. Most of the photographs are from the past few years, although there are a few earlier ones. This series is what I think of as my soul work: my on-gong practice of making photographs as a way to understand myself and create meaningful connections with others.
I published a book of earlier work from this series in 2015 and then continued making new photographs. Over a period of six or seven years, the work had expanded and grown stronger, and I knew I wanted to make a new book. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to re-publish my earlier book with an expansive edit or if I wanted to make something entirely new. After early conversations with MACK, I went full speed ahead with making a strong, poetic artist’s book that captured this specific moment in my life and work. I think of this book as a visual poem. It’s a highly personal meditation on life, relationships, and personhood. The images are edited and sequenced based on color, gesture, mood, and emotion. It was wonderful for me to follow the work and make the most beautiful and emotional book that I could make.

In the book, there’s an important presence of writings. Why this choice?
Yes, I’ve had a long-time interest in text and images, and I’ve used writing in different bodies of work in different ways. I published a book in 2018 called To Survive on This Shore, which included photographs and interviews with transgender and gender non-conforming older adults. That book had a lot of text, but it was in the voice of the subject and told their story. I also made a video in 2017 called Letter to my Father. The soundtrack for the video is me reading a rhetorical letter to my father that attempts to make sense of our difficult, and ultimately broken, relationship. In this case, the text allowed me to tell my own story rather than focusing on the stories of others.
Look at me like you love me marks the first time I’ve included my own creative writing alongside my photographs, and that was very exciting. I wrote all of the texts between March and September 2021, so they reflect a specific moment in time and are very personal. In my mind, the texts naturally fell into three categories. One category includes texts that tell a specific story or memory, often originating from a particular photograph. The second category includes texts that mine and question my need to photograph: why I’m compelled to make portraits, what the photographer/subject interaction does for me, where that compulsion comes from. The third category includes texts that are explicitly about desire. These [themes] are interwoven throughout the book. While many of the texts were written about a specific photograph or person, we separated the texts from their source images in the book. I think there is only one instance where the text and image are directly linked. I wanted the book to be personal; it’s very much about me, my identity, and my desires; how I process my world, how I come to know myself, and how I relate to other people. But I also wanted to leave a lot of entrance points and breathing room for the viewer. There is intentional ambiguity in how the text and the images overlap, and we made several formal and conceptual decisions that amplified that ambiguity. For example, there is no introductory text, no curatorial text, and no artist interview. There are no titles or page numbers throughout the book; instead, we have an image grid with titles in the back. I wanted the viewer to fully enter the world of the book and have a lyrical, emotional experience. I wasn’t interested in them thinking about my practice as a photographer, my career, or how this book relates to my larger body of work. I wanted this book to stand on its own as a self-contained emotional and visual experience.

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