Photography was my anchor: Jess T. Dugan’s 'Look at me like you love me'

When I was a child, I obsessively photographed the things that were important to me. Even then, on a visceral level, I understood that everything could disappear, that I could lose the things I love at any time. Having a photograph felt like a safeguard, a way to keep it all with me no matter how turbulent and unpredictable the world became. From the very beginning, photography was my anchor. Without it, I would be lost.

The accumulation of images is a complex and beautiful web, a hand-drawn map I’m creating as I go, so no matter how lost I may get, I will always be able to find my way back home.

Photographing takes all that I have. When I am finished, I am exhausted. I look closely and intensely; I read your energy, responding to what you bring into the room, aware of what my own presence contributes. Focusing on my breath, my voice, the words I use. Looking at the details. Are you holding tension in your fingers, your forehead, your jaw? Are you able to let go of your awareness of my camera? How long will that take? Are you nervous? What are you thinking about?

Come, lover.

Let us seek the spiritual through the carnal.

The irises bloomed all at once, vibrant pink flowers emerging from a sea of green, seemingly overnight. I wait all year for this moment, fleeting as it is.

After a rainstorm, the air heavy and wet, I came home to find them laying on their side, the stalks too tall, the blooms too heavy. I wondered if, perhaps, I had made a mistake trimming them the year before, if I hadn’t cut them back far enough.

I tell you this.
You say: sometimes the rain just has its way.

I awake alone. It is quiet here; I was dreaming of you. The essence of your body and my desire for you are embedded in my early-morning consciousness. They start to slip away with the breaking of dawn, replaced by my thoughts, my yearning. Where are you now? Are you dreaming of me too?

I am falling for you, hard and fast.
You meet me here, in this place of desire, and say, simply, yes.

One moment you’re twenty-five and kissing in the car, beginning the intoxicating dance of falling in love, and suddenly, ten years go by, and you’re raising a child and reckoning with the knowledge that this is it, this is what you chose, this is your life.

And then you realize how lucky you are, and how fragile it all is, this existence we find ourselves in. All of the small things— gestures of attention, of caring, of presence—emerge to you as the significant things they have always been. Love was hiding in the shadow of the everyday, there all along, waiting for your eyes to adjust.

It is being the first call, the last stop.

It is showing up, making the choice to be present, to stay when things are hard. It is a commitment to looking inward and learning how to be more vulnerable, less reactive. It is an accumulation of memories, a holding of history.

The thing about love, though, is that it is not the same as desire. The newness fades, the mystery evolves into a deep knowing. A series of everyday, banal moments—interspersed with exceptional ones, both joyful and difficult—add up to something much larger than the sum of their parts.


Embossed printed linen hardcover
23.5 x 29.5 cm, 108 pages

ISBN 978-1-913620-54-7
January 2022
€45 £35 $55

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