Quarantine Reflections: Jess T. Dugan
ICP Curatorial Team: How are you coping and/or thriving during these uncertain times?
Jess T. Dugan: This is definitely a strange time! Now that we’re a full month into the quarantine, this new reality has really sunk in for me. I am isolating at home, as many of us are, and feel very grateful to be able to do that. I live with my partner Vanessa and our two-year-old daughter, Elinor, so we’re all hunkered down together.
I’m finding that it’s essential that I get out and exercise every day and that I keep in touch with friends and family as much as I can. I am staying active on social media and e-mail, but I am trying to limit the amount of time I spend online each day and appreciate the quietness of this moment. Although there are aspects of this experience that are difficult and stressful, I’m also finding that I really needed the slow down and the quiet time after a very busy (and travel-filled) few years.
ICP: What does your life/schedule look like now?
JTD: My days are a mix of being with Elinor and spending time in the studio or making pictures. I’ve had a lot of work and travel cancelled, which has financial downsides of course, but it has enabled me to really double down on making new work. I’m also trying to carve out time for reading and writing, which can be hard to do amidst the intensity of daily life. I live near a big, beautiful park and have been spending several hours there each day, either playing with Elinor or going for a walk or run.
ICP: Are you working on projects you started before the pandemic or have you pivoted?
JTD: Before the pandemic, I was making a lot of new portraits for my long-term project Every Breath We Drew, which I can’t do in the present moment. Instead, I’ve been making new self-portraits, which have always been part of my work. I have been meaning to focus more intensely on photographing myself for a while, but the allure of photographing other people often pulls me in that direction. So, this quarantine has forced me to focus on myself and explore pictures I can make in and around my home, which has been a productive and wonderful experience. I’m finding that when I slow down and stay in one place, new ideas emerge. That’s certainly a lesson I’ll carry with me going forward.
ICP: Are you producing collaborative work? How has collaboration changed?
JTD: Well, since I make portraits, most of my work is collaborative. As I mentioned, I have mostly been photographing myself, although I did make a portrait recently of my friend Collin, who I have been photographing regularly for several years. We met in a park and kept our six feet of distance—it was strange to see a friend and not hug or touch in any way. But we made it work and I’m happy with the portrait we made. I may or may not do that again, depending on how long this quarantine lasts.
I’m also working on a project photographing my family, including Vanessa and Elinor, and I’ve been making some new pictures for that as well. Even though we live together, making work for this series has been logistically more complicated because Vanessa and I are both juggling work and childcare seven days a week; it has proven to be difficult to carve out time for portraits that require all three of us.
ICP: Is there a work of art that you’ve found yourself thinking about a lot these days? Why is it on your mind?
JTD: I’m not thinking about any one piece of art, but I am sorely missing going to museums and galleries. I visit my local museums regularly and find solace in that experience. I know a lot of museums have significantly increased their online programming, but for me, that doesn’t hold the same appeal. I have watched a few artist talks online and definitely appreciate that I can tune in to things happening in different cities. But, overall, I still much prefer experiencing things in real time and space with other people.
ICP: What are you looking at and listening to in order to spark creativity and inspiration? Is this different than before the quarantine?
JTD: Music is playing a significant role for me. I’ve been listing to a lot of music as I work and have been more tuned in to the ways music affects (or reflects) my moods. I’ve been playing music when I make my self-portraits—it really helps me get into the right headspace to make pictures that are emotional and intimate.
I also have a pretty big photobook collection and have been revisiting some old favorites.
ICP: What have you seen in terms of responses from friends and colleagues that you find inspiring?
JTD: I’ve been inspired by the ways in which the broader art community has come together to support each other during this time. So many artists and art institutions are in difficult and precarious financial situations, which is scary and has serious implications for so many people. But, I also think that this experience has the potential to make us all rethink what is important—or what we value—going forward.
I’ve also been touched by how kind people are being to each other, whether online or from a distance out in public space.
ICP: What one thing has brought you the most joy today?
JTD: I am finding that a lot of things bring me joy—certainly Elinor, who is a delight to be around and who helps me see the world in new (and often hilarious) ways. All of the trees and plants in the park near my house are in full bloom, and the emergence of spring feels hopeful and positive. And, most importantly, this experience has reinforced my gratitude for the good things I have in my life, including my family, my health, my home, my community, and, of course, my work.