i am sixteen and i felt death.
walking into the hospital room, engulfed by confusion, fear, and loss. i see my grandmother standing by my mother’s bedside. i find a comfortable spot with my back against the wall opposite of the bed. i am numb. my grandmother is talking of nothing, words are spilling out and sinking into the floor, never reaching my ears. and yet my eyes remained fixed on my grandmother’s hand – holding my mother’s as she continues to caress and stroke my mother’s forearm in search of her own comfort.
it is in this observation that an impression comes upon me that perhaps i should also touch my mother. that i, being her only child, should also show my affection and peel myself away from the cold wall. i approach my mother’s bedside, reach forth my hand and try to mimic my grandmother’s loving touch. my hand meets my mother’s upper arm and it’s jolted by a cold shock. i retract my hand.
my mother is gone.
a cold lifeless body and shell is all that remains.
i have witnessed the harsh reality of the absence of her spirit.
death is now very much in the room. death is everywhere.
and i felt it, physically felt it.
and how could my grandmother continue to hold her hand and caress her arm?
does she not feel what i felt?
and i slowly back away to find my place of comfort against the wall opposite the bed of my mother. and words continue to fall and sink into the linoleum, running about my feet and teasing me. perhaps all this is a joke.
and i am her only child.
and this is how i show my affection?
and i stay against the wall.
i am sixteen and i felt death.
by no means did i intend to revisit this poignant memory in my life.
“death portraits” began as nothing more than a question which grew into a study. an observation of the relationship of the body and soul and what is communicated in a portrait. little did i know that this question was scratching the surface of something all too familiar. something buried deep within. as i started to unwrap the layers of this personal fabric, more and more of my vulnerable self was exposed. I knew no matter how dark and personal, this journey i needed to travel. to revisit my sixteen year old self as an adult and let my story take flight through my art.
my goal in this project was to photograph a soulless portrait. to take the living and remove that vital element we call life – the element that gives shape, voice, and wings to an individual. to study the hollow eyes and see what is communicated. to allow gravity to have utmost control of the human body, the face, the limbs, the breath, and see what it molds and creates. perhaps these portraits are unflattering, but there is truth. a different window to the soul is examined, through gesture and humility, as the masks have been removed. call it morbid, call it art, call it what you will, but in any case i have become the biggest benefactor to the project and i owe my subjects and assistants a great deal of my gratitude for the journey they have provided of self discovery and healing.
i tribute this project to my mother. there are exactly fifteen portraits to represent the fifteen years since she has passed away.
i live and breathe because of her. i have a voice because of her. i have a family i dearly love because of her…i am…because of her. i thank her for her sacrifices and eternal love that she has blessed and continues to bless me and my family with each day. may godspeed and until we meet again.
with all that i am, your son, duston.
thank you to all my models that participated in this project: josh, justin, john, scott, thomas, matt, kip, turtle, toby, joel, jonas, spencer, jay, randy, and jesse.
and my assistants: karlie, michelle, tiffany, sam, and whit.
without your help none of this would have been possible.
and lastly, again i want to thank all those that came to the show, as well as the many that weren’t able to come but would have. your support and company is very much appreciated.
a very sincere heartfelt thank you to you all…
if you want an idea of what the exhibit looked like, my friend and fellow photog rob d shot some great photos of my studio which offer some great insight to how the prints were displayed.
visit his blog here.
video of the event to come.