Photographing Family

by Aline Smithson

Doug DuBois: All the Days and Nights

Too Much Chocolate


Doug Dubois’ series and book, All the Days and Nights, has resonated with critics, collectors, and just about everyone else. This long term project consistently reveals the nuances and emotions of life at it’s most real. It’s been said that Doug can’t take a bad picture, and it’s also true that Doug has the ability to create an entire novel with just one image.

I have been photographing my family, on and off, for more than twenty years. It’s a small ensemble consisting almost exclusively of my parents, brother, sister and most recently, my nephew. The work began in 1984, the year before my father’s near fatal fall from a commuter train and my mother’s subsequent breakdown and hospitalizations for depression. Over the years, I have made a series of photographs, largely portraits, which chronicle the emotional demands and delicate forbearance of family life. During this time, my parents separated and subsequently ended their marriage of forty-two years, my sister divorced shortly after the birth of her son, and my brother began a life on his own in New York City.

The significance of these events, while critical to the motivation and context for creating the photographs, is not essential to their apprehension. The pallor of my mother’s skin, the glare of my father’s gaze and the tactile communion between my sister and nephew constitute a complex and resonant picture of family ties, the inevitability of aging, and the struggle to be at home with oneself. While I don’t appear in any of the photographs, my presence is held in the gaze of my family whenever they stare out at the camera; the repertoire of gestures, settings and poses reveal my hand as the photographer; and our emotional engagement speaks of a life together and my particular history with each.

 My father and I share certain wrinkles. Genetics govern their imprint, but their presence delineates our age and experience. Twenty-five years ago, on a trip long since forgotten, my father and I shared a hotel room. In the morning, I photographed him packing his suits. Looking at the print now, I recognize three creases that line his neck and realize I am fast approaching his age at the time of the photograph.

The details of his flesh meant nothing to me then. I was interested in the play of morning sunlight against the bed and the wall. The correspondence between the three dots of reflected light and, if you look closely, the three water spots on my father’s shirtsleeve is one of those lucky accidents of photography that reveal themselves only later, like a clue imbedded in a novel, or in this particular instance, an ellipsis marking time between that morning and now, his body and mine.