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To Survive on This Shore

June 19, 2021–January 2, 2022, Project Gallery

To Survive on This Shore: Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Older Adults

For over five years, photographer Jess T. Dugan and social worker Vanessa Fabbre traveled throughout the United States seeking individuals whose experiences exist within the complex intersections of gender identity, age, race, ethnicity, sexuality, socioeconomic class, and geographic location. Dugan and Fabbre moved 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 ninety years, offering an important historical record of transgender experience and activism in the United States.

While Dugan has explored issues of identity, gender, and sexuality—and has often worked within LGBTQ communities specifically—in their earlier photographs, this is their first body of work that focuses on older adults, a result of their collaboration with Fabbre. Dugan’s portraits are open and emotive, utilizing direct eye contact to facilitate a meaningful exchange between subject and viewer. Within the project, each of Dugan’s photographs is accompanied by an excerpt from a full-length interview conducted by Fabbre. These texts give insight into each individual’s lived experience, enhancing the viewer’s connection to each subject’s story. The exhibition provides a nuanced view into the struggles and joys of growing older as a transgender person and offers a poignant reflection on what it means to live authentically despite seemingly insurmountable odds.

A companion publication, To Survive on This Shore, was published as a hardcover book by Kehrer Verlag in 2018.

To Survive on This Shore: Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Older Adults is an exhibition organized by Barrett Barrera Projects. 


Supported at the Eastman Museum by Trillium Health, Matt Haag & Bill Schaefer and the Schaefer-Haag LGBTQ Advocacy Fund, and an anonymous donor.

About Jess T. Dugan & Vanessa Fabbre

Bios +

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 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 Assistant 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.

Conversation with Jess T. Dugan & Vanessa Fabbre

In this conversation, photographer Jess T. Dugan and social worker Vanessa Fabbre share the making of To Survive on This Shore: Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Older Adults. The conversation was moderated by Jamie M. Allen, Stephen B. and Janice G. Ashley Associate Curator, Department of Photography.

Video +

Virtual 360 Tour

Explore To Survive on This Shore virtually, complete with all text and full-sized images.

Virtual 360 Tour +

Navigation tips:

  • Red dots: click these to read the PDFs of the interviews. 
  • Yellow dots: click these to view the photographs. To see the work in greater detail, simply click on the image for it to expand to full screen.

Spark Card

We worked with Jeannie Gainsburg, author of the book The Savvy Ally, to create this resource for understanding different ways to think and talk about gender, as well as tips and best practices for talking with and about transgender and gender-expansive people.

Open PDF +