I was introduced to Doug Dubois’s work while in graduate school. Professors wanted me to take a look at his project “Family Photos” which document his own family, a project that had similarities to the one I was working on at the time. I admired how his portraits often showed the subjects within the context of their environment. Here are just a few of the images, but you can see more here.
What I want to focus on today, however, is Dubois’s latest project, My Last Day at Seventeen. For this project, Dubois focused on teenagers from Russell Heights in Ireland, a place near his Cork summer artist-in-residency at Serius Arts Center. The project lasted over the course of 5 summers. From the Time Lightbox feature:
“The photographs here look at the bravado and adventure of childhood with an eye towards its fragility and inevitable loss,” DuBois wrote about the project. In each interview, discussion, or piece of literature covering the topic, he is quick to include that this “eye” was that of a “middle-aged American photographer on a group of young people from a few blocks of a housing estate in Russell Heights, Ireland.”
In that moment of uncertainty, however, Peggy Sue Amison, the director of the Sirius Arts Center, connected DuBois with a group of at-risk youth. After a couple of weeks worth weekly meetings, the first sparks of “My Last Day at Seventeen” ignited when Kevin and Eirn (two youth from the group) took DuBois to a place they called “the steps,” the gateway to Russell Heights, and opened DuBois’s eyes to a world of the not-quite adults, struggling — publicly and privately — through the last moments of their childhood.
DuBois gained entry in Russel Heights through his relationship with Kevin and Eirn, two Irish youth who would become central subjects of his work — Eirn uttered the sentence, “My last day at seventeen,” that would become the project’s title. Kevin and Eirn introduced DuBois to their families and friends, inviting him back to Russell Heights each summer.
Now, I personally am always sucker for coming-of-age themed anything. Books, movies, photography. And this work draws me right in. I admire how Dubois alternates between close-ups of these teens expressive faces – often in dramatic, almost cinematic lighting (although I imagine it’s natural light, often during golden hour – summer just is special in that way), and pushed back with some context of the environment – like he did with his family shots. I think it is important to give this context in order to give that context of the world in which these kids are growing up. The close ups, on the other hand, draw us in, and show us how close Doug really got to these kids. It’s those images that connect us, that show us the longing, the despair, the temporary “bravado”..
Below the images you will find a promo video for his Kickstarter project that I also recommend checking out.. He’s very close to his $27,000 goal – and I am proud to be a backer and look forward to receiving my book copy in the future : )
© Doug Dubois