The image on the cover of Doug DuBois' book, All the Days and Nights, is intriguing. A woman on the left is looking down, absorbed in thought, while the man on the right engages her in conversation. Although they are sitting close to each other, there is a gap between them, heightened by the dimly lit surroundings. The two people are DuBois' parents.
After his father was seriously injured in a commuter train accident, and his mother suffered a breakdown and was repeatedly hospitalized, DuBois took his camera and delved into the complex dynamics of his family relationships. Even after his father's long recovery, he continues to explore these relationships and has done so for 25 years.
The book is presented in two parts. The first set of photographs was taken from 1984-1990. DuBois portrays a visual narrative of the growing tension between his parents. Images are thoughtfully paced to show the build up. In between, he reveals other facets of his family relationships in photographs of his younger brother Luke and sister Lise. DuBois often pulled his camera back to show context. There is a picture of his mother reaching down the floor littered with Christmas gift wrappers, red ribbons, boxes and a shopping bag. Another one shows his family in the living room where all of them are wearing pajamas. Luke is looking directly at the camera while Lise, his father and mother are staring elsewhere, distracted. A bottle of champagne and four glasses sit on the coffee table signaling that the family is celebrating for a special occasion. These establishing shots around the home provide a foundation for understanding his narrative.
The second set of photographs was taken from 1999-2008. By this time, DuBois parents have divorced and each parent is photographed separately. Also, Luke is now a young man and Lise is a mother whose son, Spencer, is introduced for the first time. In this series, he turns to portraiture and collaboratively works with his family to achieve “a visual, almost palpable tension in the photographs to initiate an emotional or narrative cue."1 He brings his camera closer to his subjects and presents stark physical and facial expressions evoking one to wonder and question the narrative behind the image. A particularly compelling portrait is of his mother facing directly at the camera, the front of her neck plastered with strips of translucent bandages revealing a dark scar. Complementing these portraits are photographs of domestic details—his mother's incomplete jigsaw puzzle on a table, rubber darts stuck in the window on a cold winter day, or the collection of plastic toy dinosaurs playfully arranged on the floor as if they were racing with one another. What is the meaning underlying these objects?
Donald Antrim's beautifully written essay is a must-read for photographers whose personal projects deal with their family as a photographic subject. He ponders the dilemmas encountered by the memoirist in relating with his subjects. He also discusses DuBois work and incorporates thought-provoking questions that lay the groundwork for viewing his photographs. DuBois' afterword is evocative and well-written. He shares poignant stories resulting in an urge to revisit the book and contemplate his images again.
DuBois' visual consistency is simply remarkable in this collection of 62 photographs taken over 25 years. He is steadfast and passionate about his family and it is palpable in his photographs. The act of triggering the shutter in the midst of familial discord and tension is a courageous feat and he does it with sensitivity and respect.
Turning the last page of Doug DuBois’ All the Days and Nights is akin to one’s feeling after finishing a good novel. The visuals and the narrative linger in your mind and you wonder how the sequel to the DuBois family will unfold.Aperture, New York, 2009. 128 pp., 62 color illustrations., 9½x10½".
Doug DuBois Website