The woman sits in the semi darkness of what appears to be a living room. She is alone. Her eyes are red rimmed and still. At her throat is a bandage that seams together a long surgical incision. She fixes you with a knowing gaze. If you thought you could hide or pretend in the face of that gaze, forget it. She has your number, she’s figured you out and she knows a hell of a lot more than you do about life and pain and love.

This image of Doug DuBois’ mother is from his book ….all the days and nights. Published by Aperture, it contains 62 images spanning 25 years. In the mid 1980’s DuBois began photographing his family just before his father suffered a fall from a commuter train. This event and the challenges his family faced during his father’s convalescence set in motion an unraveling of sorts that plays out in subtle ways throughout the book. The book is broken up into two parts; the first shows the family from 1984 to 1990 during the lead up to and the immediate aftermath of his father’s accident. The second explores the subsequent years from 1999 to 2008 when the family grows up, grows apart and periodically comes back together.

 

 

©Doug DuBois

 
 

Throughout the book we meet characters and see scenes that are at once painfully personal but also universal to our own experiences of family. The book is sequenced in a loose chronology that allows you to enter into the family’s story while simultaneously considering the idea of family and one’s own experiences and associations with it.

An early image shows his father packing for a trip. It conveys the father’s sense of unwilled obligation as he dutifully packs in his white tee shirt and slacks for the journey ahead. In subsequent images we meet other family members including Dubois’ brother, sister and nephew.

 
 

©Doug DuBois

 
 

©Doug DuBois

 
 

We also see an image of DuBois’ father and mother together at bar sharing a moment of closeness and warmth. What follows is the train ride, its aftermath and the rest of their lives.

The family dissolves but somehow remains intact. Relationships shift before our eyes. Children leave home and begin their adult lives as their parents’ marriage crumbles. The idea of family as solid and constant that we form as children and cling to into adulthood is shattered.

 
 

©Doug DuBois

 
 

The images show us incremental shifts in the family dynamic over years and decades. They are quiet, intelligent images that are formally and emotionally seductive. They are luscious in detail and replete with clues and signs that point to a complex and ultimately unknowable narrative. After all what is more mysterious than the deepest familial bonds with their conflicting and complicated motivations, disappointments and fears?

DuBois reveals a lifetime of family details but in many ways his family life remains a complete mystery to me. I grew up with older parents and no siblings. My mother and father died decades ago, long before I came to photography. Although I have close friends and some family I often feel very alone in the world. In a strange way Dubois’ images make this reality easier for me to confront. They remind me of all the real and heartbreaking moments that exist within the life of every family that I had somehow forgotten.

DuBois has earned my respect in numerous ways but particularly through the intelligence and restraint he applies to his life and photography. He never goes for the easy or cheap shot, the salacious or obvious. He’s built a body of important and personal work over almost three decades, at a time when many photographers, including myself, push out projects every few years.

His photographs are his interpretation of the life of his family and he conveys its story with extraordinary tenderness and clarity. What he shares with us is both remarkable and ordinary.  It’s his story, but it’s our story too.

 

Amy Stein