“Tough” A Portrait Series by Matt Dunn


Matt Dunn, originally from the Bronx, NY, lives in Shaw and has been a freelance photographer since June 2000. Matt’s work has been published in the New York Times, Spin Magazine, Mother Jones, Washington City Paper and other publications. He has work on photo projects internationally in Haiti, Cuba, India and Uganda. You can see previous “Tough” entries here.


Young Rock

35 Comment

  • woah, where can people Fence?!?

  • Why are you showing these kids in this lighe are we exploiting the subjects. Enough already. Show some positive picture of the young minority males, no wonder some people are scared when they ge off the bus are close their car lock at the stop lights in DC. We are bigger than that!!! Pop

  • Seriously, we all see enough hard looks riding the metro every day. How about something a little more in the spirit of the beautiful life?

  • OK – we get it already – they’re “tough.” Tiresome.

  • yeah big thumbs down on this series. more ojo latino, less people trying to look tough.

  • This “tough” series is awful.

  • @Kalia – The fencing masks say VAF – Virginia Academy of Fencing – but that’s out on the Beltway. I don’t think that’s VAF. To your question, there are a couple of good clubs close in – DC Fencing Club and Chevy Chase Fencing Club. CCFC is probably better for beginners. DCFC is full of sharks.

    Side note: They really ought to have fencing pants on. Cheap blades can snap and getting stabbed through the femoral artery is a good way to bleed to death.

  • i love these portraits, but i dislike the name… i dont see ‘tough’ from many of the subjects, and honestly i would like to see the image and have my own first impression without the idea that the person being photographed is portraying ‘tough’. the green eyed, short haird black lady from the last set, the kungfu gift shop(?) red haired white girl, and the first picture in this set are absolutely beautiful, imo.

  • I named the series “Tough” because they are “Street Portraits”. Tough means
    stark, spare, hard, demanding. If you don’t like the portraits, TOUGH. Feel free to wait for the next Door of the Day post.

    I just finished reading a book by Joel Myerowitz called Bystander: A History of Street Photography.

    In the book “Bystander: A History of Street Photography”, Joel Meyerowitz talks about shooting with Gary Winogrand. In the book, Meyerowitz talks about what makes an image “Tough”.

    “Tough” was a term we used to use a lot. Stark, spare, hard, demanding, tough: these were the values that we applied to the act of making photographs.

    Tough meant the image was uncompromising. It was something made out of your guts, out of your instinct, and it was unwieldy in some way, not capable of being categorized by ordinary standards. So it was tough. It was tough to like, tough to see, tough to make, tough to draw meaning from. It wasn’t what most photographs looked like. … It was a type of picture that made you uncomfortable sometimes. You didn’t quite understand it. It made you grind your teeth.

    At the same time, though you knew it was beautiful, because tough also meant that – it meant beautiful too. … The two words – “tough” and “beautiful” –became synonyms somehow. They were what street photography was all about.

  • I defy the haters. Count me on the YAY side of this series.

    Dunn’s portraits are well-executed documents of real people. I don’t see the crazy-assed attitude bomb that folks are complaining about here. Like #3 above: it’s striking due to the highlights & contours of the subject’s face, the intense shirt color, the veins in the left arm: it’s a great shot. And the stoic expression works. #1 has great piercing eye-contact, but #3 is the best of these. In my opinion.

    but then, i’m in the biz, so I appreciate a dose of professional-quality photography for photography’s sake. Right on.

  • Nice job Matt, now you are boring AND pretentious.

  • Oh ease up guys. I kinda like them. Good job Matt.

  • Can the rest of you post the links to your photo streams? I’d love to see what kind of high quality work you’re producing.

    Great shots Matt.

  • Bumped over to moderation again!
    Intangible Arts is a potty-mouth.
    Pro-Matt message coming up, whenever it clears.

  • Some kids just don’t know tough, so they bitch on the internets 🙂 I assume the desire to appear tough is based on vulnerability, and this series captures that well. Thanks Matt!

  • Dearest Matt:

    Yankee go home!


  • Taking photos of people is easy – taking photos that have the depth that Mr. Dunn describes is not. I think he pulls it off beautifully. These ARE tough. Bravo, Matt.

  • I have really been enjoying Matt Dunn’s portraits. They are compelling, realistic and diverse. I don’t understand why are these causing such a reaction.

  • These photos don’t show me anything that I can’t see with my own eyes. To me, that is the mark of artistry in photography. These are as artistic as a passport photo, and yes, some people go for that. They don’t offend me, but I don’t see the value.

  • I enjoy this series very, very much. They’re an inspiration for us aspiring photographers. Keep up the good work Matt.

    Nestor el Puma

  • Photography, or any art, shouldn’t need so many words to explain or justify itself. Dunn, you chose this forum – tough.

  • Watch this space for my next series called “Trite”. Just for you victoriam!

  • These pictures are just another step to exploit the community, you are no better tan the take out chinese food places and the liquor stores that sell cheap wine. You know what the hell you are doing Mat. I like your pictures but not when they exploit the poor within our community. What is the value? Find a couple of white kids in a trailer park and take their pictures for the Dupont Circle goups. How would you conservatives like that. You are the Glenn Beck of this Blog. WTM off with your head. Pop get rid of this or I am going to call the NAWP or the NAACP.

  • Prince Of Petworth

    This series is phenomenal. @Matt B Gone you can send it to whomever you’d like. I’ll happily field all questions and concerns.

    Dan Silverman

  • The take out Chinese places? I thought they provided a service! Chinese food and delivered. The kid in the top picture doesn’t look tough. Just a decent kid having his picture taken. Bet his mom will get the picture framed. And red shirt? He’s not tough; it’s just a pose. I like looking at these pictures of real people, not too posed, natural. And to the angry over nothing poster above, who says these subjects are poor? What is the value? Naturalistic subjects in their setting.

  • MBG, funny you should mention Glenn Beck, as I think you give him a run for his money in the Hysterical Dementia department.

  • Matt – good to hear you want to move on – but think about trying something new!

  • mattbgone, pull your head outta yer ass. these are dignified pictures of individuals. they’re not exploitative.

  • MBG, you’re an effing nutter! It’s art; beauty being in the eye of the beholder, there are certain to be some people to whom it does not appeal. I happen to like the series a lot. BTW, you can take your social commentary and stick it up yer arse.

  • Hey Matt, nice work and ignore the haters. I for one always assumed that you weren’t trying to a ‘look at these tough folks’ series. People need to take time to consider nuance, but that’s asking a lot these days.

    And if someone doesn’t like it, at least they could be civil and maybe try using their real names. Dan, have you ever considered banning anonymous comments? Some people are taking your normally thoughtful, entertaining forum on city life in the sour direction of much lesser blogs.

    I do notice that you often have a slight downward angle on your subjects. Is this intentional or does it just work out that way?

  • Call the images what you will, these are excellent douumentaries of DC, hence the name DCist.
    All you nutbags with nothing good to say, show your goods or give some constructive critique. Since you are unable it again says much about the artists need to document his surroundings. Suits in Georgetown aren’t that interesting.

    Keep up the good work Bobby!!

  • I asked one of the liquor store owners why he sells Manischewitz along with the other cheap wine. He said that older people like to drink it as a substitute for prune juice.

  • People don’t like the word “tough”? Do you prefer “transparent,” which seems to be more frequent than “the”? Do you prefer “real”?

    I find these portraits by Matt Dunn to be quite tender, and I think he’s winking at us naming them “tough.” The stillness in each portrait (with the exception of the Hooter’s girl) suggests an acceptance of Matt Dunn as a person standing a foot or two away. I wish I could invite Matt Dunn to my job site. I see a lot of toughness on the outside and a softening within. I also see steel magnolias. Matt Dunn could be a priest, but I also think he should keep the title “tough” because it opens doors. If you approached me and said you wanted to take my picture for the “tough” series, you’d see a different side of me. This is the side that wants to hunt down Big Worm for opposing curb cuts for blind people.

  • Gator said it….

  • Matt B Gone- Why do you assume the subjects are poor. I think your prejudice is showing.

Comments are closed.