Everyday Portraits That Go Beyond Intimacy

“If my work was as good as an Hermès bag, or sold as much, well, that would be nice!” jokes the photographer Doug Dubois. But Hermès has offered a different kind of validation for Dubois’s intimate portraiture: Cory Jacobs, who’s served as the label’s go-to photography curator for the last seven years, has curated Dubois’s first midcareer survey, “In Good Time,” which opens this week at the Aperture Foundation in New York.

Dubois became a subject of interest to the French fashion house, and its creative-support nonprofit the Hermès Foundation, about a year and a half ago, when Jacobs attended a presentation of Dubois’s latest series, “My Last Day at Seventeen,” which Aperture had just published as a monograph. The series — of Irish teenagers from a working-class housing estate named Russell Heights in the city of Cobh — was taken when Dubois was an artist-in-residence there at the Sirius Arts Centre in 2009. “If you asked them what they first thought of me, they’d all say, ‘a perv,’” he says of the teens there, emphasizing the point with an expletive unprintable here. But things took a turn, so much so that Dubois returned to Ireland to study his subjects further. “I developed an ensemble of young adults, who over five summers I would photograph repeatedly,” he explains of these teenagers, who “grew up in a rare time in Ireland where there was a strong economy. But then as they come of age, it all collapses. That threshold is really interesting; I wanted that tension to always be there.”

Ultra vivid and punchy with mood, the series nonetheless feels somehow distant — but everything about Dubois’s work is inherently intimate. “I spend a lot of time with people photographing; you just have to be there,” he says. “I always call it ‘choreography’ with another person,” he says. He equates these up-close-and-personal glimpses to creative nonfiction: “Everything is based on truth, but in my case folded into very conscious allusion, like cinema, even fashion. All images reference each other.”

Also included in his exhibition are two older bodies of work: the two-part “All the Days and Nights,” 1984-90 and 1999-2008, and “Avella,” 1990-95, which explore his own familial ties. “A lot of my photos, starting with my family work, are collaborative,” he explains. For the later installment of “All Days,” Dubois drafted narratives for the photos: “It’s more and more something that’s constructed,” he says, adding that he didn’t always get the shot on the first try. “My mother and I would make appointments. Sometimes it takes four or five tries over a period of a few months.”

This particular brand of intimacy is key to Dubois’s work. “It’s always portraiture, I’m horrible at landscapes,” he says. “I can’t talk to a tree!”