Ever since she began taking portraits of her close friends in 2011, photographer Jess Dugan has been exploring gender and sexuality in her work, especially within the community of trans people designated female at birth. One question that continued to plague her was this: How do each of us define and portray masculinity? "I was thinking a lot about the idea of masculinity on both a personal and cultural level," Dugan told BuzzFeed News. "The more time I spent thinking about it, the more elusive and malleable it seemed."
At the time, Dugan was alone in a brand-new city and found herself figuring out where she fit in and with whom she felt connected. "Using the investigation of masculinity as a starting point, my photographs became about the intersection of a personal identity and a need for intimacy and connection with others." The photographs have now been compiled into a photography book titled Every Breath We Drew. Dugan hopes the images help people question their own assumptions about gender and what it means to be masculine.
"I have always been especially drawn to the combination of strength and vulnerability, which is present in so many of the images. The people I chose to photograph often had qualities that I saw reflected in myself or that I desired to emulate."
When asked for her personal definition of masculinity, Dugan said, "Masculinity is difficult to define, as it is impossible to separate what is innate from what is learned, taught, and supported by our society."
"I am interested in a version of masculinity that is more expansive, and more vulnerable, than the kind often represented in mainstream culture."
"The people I was drawn to photograph embody a gentle kind of a masculinity, whether they are male or female, gay or straight."
"As someone who has had to consciously define my own version of masculinity against what society has expected of me, I was drawn to people who embodied a similar authenticity and comfort within themselves."
"I find it most rewarding when my work resonates with someone on an individual level and they find something meaningful within it."
"I often place the viewer in a position of intimacy with the subject — in their bedroom or sitting across the kitchen table — and I hope that this intimacy allows for a meaningful exchange to take place."
"I also want viewers to question their own assumptions about gender and sexuality, calling into question things they may have previously assumed to be objective or clearly defined."
"The photographs are ultimately about the need we all have to be seen, embraced, and desired as our true selves."
The collection is currently on display at the Cornell Museum of Fine Arts at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, where it will remain through January.
You can purchase the book here.