Jess T. Dugan’s Favorite Book from 2021

MARVEL by Marvel Harris.   Published by MACK.

One of the most remarkable things about photography is its ability to be used as a tool to understand oneself, a tool of discovery and healing and self-expression, creating imagery that is initially transformative for the maker and, later, deeply meaningful to others. Marvel Harris’ recent book, MARVEL, poignantly embodies this idea, inviting us to witness his deeply personal journey of coming into himself as an autistic, non-binary, transgender person and artist. Over a five-year period, he made highly personal self-portraits, documenting both his gender transition and his struggles with mental health. Utilizing the camera as a tool for self-expression allowed him to make sense of emotions and experiences that, because of his autism, he otherwise struggled to understand. One of the strengths of this book is its refusal to fall into a singular narrative. It is about a gender transition, yes, but it refuses to depict that journey as separate from the rest of human experience in all of its multifaceted complexity. Through his photographs, Marvel is engaging with existential questions around what it means to know yourself, to feel at home in your body, to be part of a family and community, and to love and be loved.

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 40 museums throughout the United States. Their monographs include Look at me like you love me (MACK, 2022), 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).