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Photographer Creates Vulnerable Portraits of Her Exes in ‘Ex-Boyfriends’

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James, together 4 months. I was 27 years old

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Matt, together 2 months. I was 13 years old

For Ex-Boyfriends, Boston-based photographer Laura Beth Reese turns back the clock, returning to her previous romantic relationships by photographing her former partners in near nudity. Where the project began as a way of chasing down the resolution that eluded her at the close of these partnerships, it became something much more: a reentry into the tangled web of her own feelings about each subject.

The project, admits the photographer, arose as a pretext for reconnecting with people for whom she still carried the weight of affection; in their absence, she longed for closeness. Some she had not spoken to in years, and the process of garnering their consent to be photographed was an exhausting one, with only half of her ex-partners stepping on board. Where she had approached the endeavor with what she believed to be a clear idea of who would agree, who would refuse, and who would require convincing, she discovered that her predictions were fallible and that even her surest bets were hesitant to get involved. For those who were tentative, Reese offered instead to allow them to photograph her, producing an alternate but no less authentic portrait of the relationship they shared.

Once Reese gained access into her subjects’ life and homes, she found herself in uncomfortable and at times excruciating exchanges. Surprisingly, stripping off her clothes and sitting for her own portraits felt far safer than sitting behind the camera, saddled with control and responsibility over the situation. She reports that she sometimes became forgetful, bumbling, and embarrassed at her unease. Where she sought familiarity, she found formality and constraint, and openness was at times replaced with self-consciousness.

While it was important that Reese and her subjects be partially naked in order to facilitate a measure of vulnerability and intimacy, the photographer felt that full nudity “was too much to ask” given the circumstances. The portraits that emerge from their correspondence are a record of a homecoming, but one that has distinct qualifications, invisible lines drawn in the sand. While she hoped that the series would facilitate a sense of closure, a binding off of her ties with each person, in some ways she instead opened the floodgates of her past, “forcing long gone feelings to resurface.”

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Jared, together 2 months. I was 19 years old

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Ian, together 3 months. I was 12 years old

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Quinn, together 1.5 years. I was 25 years old

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Drew, together 1 year. I was 18 years old

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John, together 8 months. I was 22 years old

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Kelly Shea, together 1 year. I was 16 years old

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Chris, together 5 months. I was 23 years old

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Portrait of the artist by Trevor, together 2 months. I was 24 years old

All images © Laura Beth Reese

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