My Last Day at Seventeen,
The latest publication from Doug DuBois, My last days at seventeen, is branded Aperture and published in 2015 by the historic New York publishing house. In a comeback of tenderness for the most exciting age in human experience, Doug proposes a storytelling about the world of the seventeen-year-old examining the difficulties of their growth in today’s Ireland and attracted critical acclaim from around the world.
Eccentric and tentacular or invisible and lonely, the teenagers are thus the characters of this photo shoot, between staged photography to actual shooting and the most authentic reportage, made of random encounters with the subjects. So, in the dull stirring of consciences you can sense a dense and tumultuous network of individualities that leans towards a vision still blurred and finds different stimulus, sometimes in aggregation, and sometimes in something less tangible, however still in a feeling of reciprocity and solidarity in the future.
What emerges is a propulsive and driving power that only a strong personality such as that of the young can come out in a “seventeen” community, with all their load of subsequent insecurities and difficulties.
In some friendship groups prevail oppressive feelings mainly directed to adult figures and that over time assume persecutory shades, objectifying themselves in action towards isolation and / or transgression. The narrative structure of these and other stories of adolescence comes out through photography, bended to convey both emotions and raw tensions used as a more immediate and structured communication tool. In the vast and restless teenage movement, and so in My last days at seventeen, many of these things are present, in the proportion in which it is right their being there and with the typical spontaneity of those who are drawn into the environment, living it day by day. Cultivating his lyrical gift in the narrative, the American photographer Doug DuBois leaves a reproduction of his seriousness and sincerity, we look at this book and its characters who vanish through the pages while wrapping us in an ambiguous and alluring look. Everything overlaps and gets confused and one thing only shines all over: youth with its tank of contradictions, between comfort and feebleness, difficulties and existential crises. The vitality of the visual story, of course, is mainly because of its artistic quality, and personal experiences from which the volume was born.
In its second publication (the first focused on the more intimate story with their families All the days and nights, Aperture 2009), My last days at seventeen collects the results of five years spent in the town of Cobh, County Cork, to photograph a group of young people from the residential complex of Russell Heights.
Gianpaolo Arena: The use of light is very important. To what extent does the light help to create the story? Doug DuBois: I’ve been photographing in Ireland and the light there is both beautiful and frustrating. Clouds and storms roll in and out so quickly that at one moment it’s raining, the next you have this incredible storm light, then it all seems to clear up only for the clouds to reappear and take the light away again. Each change in the light alters the tone, color and shape of the scene. You just have to roll with it and try not to get too frustrated.
When it all comes together, it’s amazing. I have a photograph of this 12 or 13 year old boy, Jordan hanging from the light pole at the entrance to his neighborhood. He climbed up this 50 foot pole like it was nothing. He had to come down so I could set up my view camera. I got everything ready and Jordon went up the pole one more time. It was all there – great light and Jordon was hanging perfectly. I made one exposure and just when I put the dark slide back, three women came running out of three different houses, screaming at Jordon to get the fuck off the pole. All three glared at me without saying a word and went back inside. I got lucky in that photograph but things like that don’t happen often.
I shoot a lot of interiors and for these I am often working with a mix of strobes, ambient light and the occasional halogen light. In this case it’s a production, often taking hours to set up. These can get kind of labored – I’m not as fast as I should be – and involve rearranging furniture, digital or Polaroid tests and a great deal of patience on the part of the subject. My sister and nephew are a great team. One will help hold a light or a reflector when I photograph the other.
In the end, no matter how elaborate or spontaneous the light is, it has to serve the emotional tenor and the meaning of the image. If the light takes over the image you can have a virtuosic display of nothing, and if light isn’t there or it’s not right, then it’s the opposite problem – a poor expression of a great idea.
Gianpaolo Arena: Do you have a method of working which you follow for each series, or does it vary for each different project? Doug DuBois: I’m not terribly systematic and each project makes different demands and offers up unique challenges. I certainly have a discernable set of techniques and approaches, but they vary enough, I think, to keep things interesting.
In Ireland, I’m often just wandering around with a camera, hoping to stumble upon a photograph – like Jordan up the pole, or a small crowd of people watching a neighbor paint his house, or Kevin and Eirn just getting out of bed at 2 in the afternoon. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve worked that way and it feels fresh and full of possibilities. As long as that feeling remains, I’ll keep at it.
The extracts of the interview, edited and published in 2011, are curated by Gianpaolo Arena.
Here the complete interview.