Jess T. Dugan
Two women embracing, unsmiling.

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Shira and Sarah
Collection of the artist

In photographs from their ongoing series “Every Breath We Drew,” Jess T. Dugan has explored the importance and power of connection, desire, and identity through the framework of queer experience. Connection is especially palpable in Shira and Sarah’s tender embrace. Sarah holds Shira, who, in turn, grasps Sarah’s wrist, and the two almost appear as a single figure. A third face, one of Sarah’s best friends, is tattooed on her arm with the words, “fortis et hospitalis” (strength and hospitality), alluding to Sarah’s own biography.

Their proximity is particularly poignant considering they are posed in stark contrast to the recommended physical distancing measures during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the setting for the photograph, outdoors on a St. Louis rooftop, with the Mississippi River in the background, was a response to social distancing, Dugan’s decision to venture outside their studio reinforces the artist’s broader project.