Rochester’s George Eastman Museum will present To Survive on This Shore: Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Older Adults, a photographic exhibition on view from June 19, 2021, through January 2, 2022. This interdisciplinary project is a collaboration between photographer Jess T. Dugan and social worker Vanessa Fabbre, an associate professor at Washington University in St. Louis whose research focuses on the intersection of LGBTQ issues and aging.
For more than five years, Dugan and Fabbre traveled throughout the United States seeking subjects whose experiences exist within the complex intersections of gender identity, age, race, ethnicity, sexuality, socioeconomic class, and geographic location. They traveled from coast to coast, to big cities and small towns, documenting the life stories of transgender and gender nonconforming older adults, an important but largely underrepresented population. The project’s participants have a wide variety of life narratives spanning the last 90 years, offering an important historical record of transgender experience and activism in the United States.
The exhibition will include photographs, each paired with texts illuminating the life narratives of those photographed. A hardcover publication (Kehrer Verlag, 2018) contains 65 portraits and texts as well as an interview with Dugan and Fabbre conducted by Karen Irvine, Deputy Director and Chief Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago.
While Dugan’s earlier work focused on issues of identity, gender, and sexuality—and often on LGBTQ communities specifically—this is their first body of work that focuses on older adults, a result of their collaboration with Fabbre. Dugan’s portraits are open, emotive, and nuanced, utilizing direct eye contact to facilitate a meaningful exchange between subject and viewer. For the accompanying texts, Fabbre provides selections of full-length interviews to enhance the viewer’s connection to each subject’s story. The resulting book and exhibition provide a nuanced view into the struggles and joys of growing older as a transgender person and offer a poignant reflection on what it means to live authentically despite seemingly insurmountable odds.
To Survive on This Shore: Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Older Adults is an exhibition organized by Barrett Barrera Projects. At the Eastman Museum, the exhibition is supported by Matt Haag & Bill Schaefer and the Schaefer-Haag LGBTQ Advocacy Fund.
Jess T. Dugan is an artist whose work explores issues of identity through photographic portraiture. Dugan’s work has been widely exhibited and is in the permanent collections of over 35 museums throughout the United States. Dugan’s monographs include To Survive on This Shore: Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Older Adults (Kehrer Verlag, 2018) and Every Breath We Drew (Daylight Books, 2015). They are the recipient of a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant and an ICP Infinity Award, and they were selected by the Obama White House as an LGBT Artist Champion of Change. They are represented by the Catherine Edelman Gallery in Chicago.
Vanessa Fabbre, PhD, LCSW, is an associate professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, where she is also affiliate faculty in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies and a faculty scholar at the Institute for Public Health. She received her PhD from the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. Her research explores the conditions under which gender and sexual minorities age well and what this means in the context of social forces such as heteronormativity, heterosexism, and transphobia. She is also interested in critical perspectives on social work practice and interpretive methodology in the social sciences. She is actively involved in the Gerontological Society of America, the American Society on Aging and the Society for Social Work and Research. Her work has been published in The Gerontologist, the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, Social Work, the Journal of Gerontological Social Work, the Journal of Urban Health, and the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.
About the George Eastman Museum
Founded in 1947, the George Eastman Museum is the world’s oldest photography museum and one of the largest film archives in the United States, located on the historic Rochester estate of entrepreneur and philanthropist George Eastman, the pioneer of popular photography. Its holdings comprise more than 400,000 photographs, 28,000 motion picture films, the world’s preeminent collection of photographic and cinematographic technology, one of the leading libraries of books related to photography and cinema, and extensive holdings of documents and other objects related to George Eastman. As a research and teaching institution, the Eastman Museum has an active publishing program and, through its two joint master’s degree programs with the University of Rochester, makes critical contributions to the fields of film preservation and of photographic preservation and collection management. For more information, visit eastman.org.