The photographs in Doug DuBois’ book, My Last Day at Seventeen, which Aperture published in September, depict the youthful residents of the Russell Heights neighborhood in Cobh, a small seaside town in County Cork, Ireland. But they’re seen through a very specific lens—no adults appear to exist in their world, and the youths seem to playfully roam in an endless summer—in service of DuBois’ constructed coming-of-age narrative.
“The whole series is about growing up, that moment where you’re at the threshold of adulthood. You’re attached to a kind of innocence, but that’s disappearing,” DuBois said.
DuBois came to Russell Heights halfway through a monthlong artist residency at the Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh in 2009. He was struggling to find a subject to photograph, and so the program’s director, Peggy Sue Amison, put him into contact with some local teens. That’s when he met Eirn and Kevin, who one day agreed to take him to the working-class housing estate where they lived. They first brought him to “the steps,” a storied hangout spot for young people in the area, and though he was foreign and much older than the group, DuBois felt drawn to their energy and the way they seemed to straddle adolescence and adulthood.
“Suddenly I saw this entire world that isn’t really accessible if you’re just wandering around the town. It’s a housing estate full of kids and families; you have no reason to go there unless you know somebody,” he said.
DuBois returned to the neighborhood for five consecutive summers, compelled by the characters he came to know and the picturesque landscape, which he imbues with a sort of mythic, cinematic quality in his photographs. Sometimes, he’d make a composite digital image from several frames of one scene. Other times the photos were performances for the camera, which DuBois directed, or recreations of stories he’d heard the kids tell.
“The book is a fiction but I stand by its truth.”