A poignant exploration of the lives of transgender and gender non-conforming older people
‘Vision 2020’ exhibits intimate portraits of transgender adults over 50 by photographer Jess T. Dugan at Minneapolis Institute of Art
The city of Minneapolis may have unwittingly been at the heart of the racial uprisings that swept across the United States this year, but a new exhibition of photographs at the Minneapolis Institute of Art proves that the city is also leading the charge on other aspects of social change.
The exhibition, ‘Vision 2020: Jess T. Dugan’, presents a series of large-scale portraits of transgender and gender-expansive older adults by the photographer Dugan, who has been working on a book specialising on the subject matter since 2013. The book, ‘To Survive on This Shore: Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Older Adults’ features interviews with and portraits of 65 sitters in their homes or personal spaces across the country. A joint effort between Dugan and her spouse, Vanessa Fabbre, a social worker and assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis, the pioneering tome elegantly articulates the triumphs and struggles to be found in each subject’s journey and experience.
‘We knew there was a lack of representation of transgender people in general – especially transgender older adults – and we wanted to fill that gap,’ Dugan shares. ‘We had heard from younger transgender people that they had never seen images of transgender older adults and they lacked a roadmap for what their life might look like as they aged. Simultaneously, we were aware that, in many cases, transgender older adults were directly responsible for the progress around gender and sexuality that we benefit from today. We wanted to record and preserve that history before it was too late.’
Dugan and Fabrre had one simple criterion when it came to looking for their subjects. ‘The only requirement for participation was that the participants self-identified as transgender or gender-expansive and were over the age of fifty,’ says Dugan. ‘Beyond that, we were committed to including a diverse array of people and intentionally sought out subjects whose lived experiences exist within the complex intersections of gender identity, age, race, ethnicity, sexuality, socioeconomic class, and geographic location.’
‘We knew there was a lack of representation of transgender people in general – especially transgender older adults – and we wanted to fill that gap’
The beautifully varied body of work, which showcases individuals in their homes, places of work or parks, accompanied by partners or cherished objects, dressed normally or to the nines, is a quiet, yet powerful celebration of the challenges the LGBTQ+ community has been overcoming for years. With a subject in her 90s also included, the book is a powerful testament to how long and complex the LGBTQ+ movement is.
At MIA, ‘Vision 2020’ comprises eight portraits – seven of which are promised gifts to the collection and the eighth, a portrait of Minneapolis council member and political activist, Andrea Jenkins, was donated by Dugan and the Catherine Edelman Gallery in Chicago. Curated by Casey Riley, the institute’s head of the Department of Photography and New Media, the exhibition will be on view until March 7, 2021.
‘Exhibiting this work in Minneapolis is especially meaningful to me and Vanessa, following George Floyd’s death,’ Dugan says. ‘Many of the participants, such as Andrea Jenkins, are trans people of colour whose courage and hard work demonstrate the power of activism to affect social change.’
‘We were aware that, in many cases, transgender older adults were directly responsible for the progress around gender and sexuality that we benefit from today’
In addition to the exhibition, Dugan’s body of work also exists as a limited edition portfolio that’s been designed for university and teaching museums’ use. The full interview transcripts are also being donated to a variety of archives.
‘My work does not attempt to provide definitive answers; rather, it invites viewers to engage with others in an intimate, meaningful way, requiring them to reflect on their own identities in the process,’ Dugan concludes. ‘I hope that my photographs both validate those within queer communities and educate those who are not LGBTQ or who may be unfamiliar with LGBTQ people.’ §