In 2016, Dillon Deaton responded to a lawn-mowing ad on Craigslist. It was posted by a woman named Arque Morgan who said she was a single mother raising her family in Durham, North Carolina, looking for some extra income.
Deaton didn't have a lawn that needed trimming. As a photography student, he was more interested in Arque's story.
"[Most people] are willing to talk if you are willing to listen," Deaton said in an interview. Deaton emailed Arque, introducing himself and the idea of doing a photography project. Arque not only responded, but also offered to include her live-in daughter, Arielle, a 24-year-old single mother of two.
With that email exchange, the two moms, their three children, and Deaton, began an intimate four-month relationship.
"I became part of their lives as much as they became a part of mine," Deaton said. Opting out of the fly-on-the-wall approach, he made their time together like that between friends. They were "just hanging out."
When Arielle comforts her son after a fall, Deaton was just a few feet away, camera in hand. "It didn't feel like I was a burden," he said.
Deaton, who is pursuing a bachelors degree in photography at UNC Chapel Hill, has a thoughtful eye. And this considerate patience — along with the graciousness of Arque and Arielle to let the photographer accompany them seemingly without boundaries — resulted in a beautifully honest snapshot of family life.
His choice to shoot the series, All On Our Own, in black and white exposes the universal frankness of family — tears, arguments, mundanity, frustration, love, and all.
After raising Arielle on her own, Arque became pregnant again just as Arielle was pregnant with her first child. But going through pregnancy and child birth at the same time — both alone, yet together — brought the mother and daughter closer.
"[Their situation] is stressful and they [do] have their differences at times," Deaton said, "but they have such a strong bond from going through that together."
"[But] it's not all struggle all the time," Deaton said. "There is also a lot of beauty that comes from going through a struggle with your family."