Diane Durant: Stories, 1986-88

The difficult business of being human

Growing up isn’t easy. We spend our whole childhood wishing it away, wishing we were older, wishing we could do the things our big brothers got to do, that we could ride our bikes to school even though we’d moved and would have to cross two highways now, there and back. 

But our childhoods are only the beginning—obviously of our lives, but also of all the disappointment the world will divvy up and how we’ll learn to deal with it, from something as innocuous as not getting to play the trumpet to the more painfully philosophical questions like, Who am I? How’d I get here? Why is everyone yelling? I hid in the holly bushes (both literal and metaphorical) from 1986 to ’88, squeezing my eyes tight so I couldn’t see or hear or feel the chaos that may or may not have been as traumatic as I remember.

But there are moments, flashes of reality burned into my psyche, woven into the person that I am and that I am continuously becoming—or maybe even unbecoming—and these moments have shaped both my fictions and my truths. Stories, 1986–88 is a little bit of both, a photographic reconciliation of all the things I couldn’t change with all the things that never were, with a dash of adult-level cynicism and a handful of childlike innocence—a synergy as compelling as it is relatable, if not entertaining, hopefully.

Years ago in graduate school, I remember reading an interview with French writer and conceptual artist Sophie Calle in which she confessed that in each of her works, her creative explorations, there was always a lie. Something she thought she would find but didn’t. As an artist, an aspect of her process included giving herself something that didn’t exist (though perhaps it should have) and giving that something the same amount of narrative weight as the rest of the elements in her stories.

Perhaps not coincidentally, her artist’s book, True Stories, relies on a similar pretense—and a consensual relationship between reader and narrator—as this book you’re holding now. These are true stories, even if, to a degree, the contrarieties and juxtapositions are truths that I thought I would find but didn’t, or truths that I knew existed but wanted to rewrite. Rephotograph. Reclaim. 

When this restorative process began, first out of therapeutic necessity and then out of pure curiosity, I wasn’t prepared to find—er, accept—some of my family’s truths, mostly because I didn’t know what to make of the bad times and I wasn’t creatively concerned with the good times. Which, by the way, was also a tricked out Chevy van conversion complete with a 10” CRT color TV and built-in VCR that we road-tripped to Hobbs, New Mexico for a basketball tournament in the summer of 1988, when adventure meant returning our Blockbuster rentals a week late and washing our uniforms with Woolite in the motel sink.

Those were good times, indeed. And there were many. But the good times aren’t what landed me in therapy twenty years later, pining after answers to the deeply philosophical questions of my youth and the very real traumas of the, well, bad times. And there were many.

I wasn’t supposed to talk about the alcoholism and the anger, the fear or the confusion, and I’m probably still not. But those truths shaped me into the woman I am today, into the mother I am definitely, just as much as my proclivity for arcade games and the art of sarcasm that seems more biological than environmental.

But parsing out the nature versus nurture debate in real time was more than my adolescence could bear, and so I waited, mostly until I could trust myself to handle all possible outcomes, to make proverbial lemonade out of life’s lemons, to rephotograph a carefree childhood that was anything but. So here we are. Of course, I’ve not set out on this trek alone, and I have my friends, family, colleagues, therapist, and you to thank for helping me turn these stories into reality, even if that reality is what I had hoped to find but didn’t.

Diane Durant

Diane Durant is a Carter Community Artist at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. She holds a PhD from the University of Texas at Dallas, where she is Associate Professor of Instruction and Director of the Comer Collection of Photography.