Tim was the first father I contacted. It became clear that this project needed to evolve into photographing other fathers with their children. Tim seemed kind of ideal because he is a work colleague. We are on good terms. His family deals with many of the same issues mine does. There are two professionals in the family, both teaching college and juggling teaching schedules. Tim said he spends most afternoons with his son while his wife is working. That's not exactly my schedule, but it feels familiar. There are a lot of long stretches of childcare that get mixed into Tim's week.
I walked away from the session with an important insight: give your portrait subjects some time to forget that you have a camera. The first images from this session feel very formal and stilted. Eventually, Tim's son just got tired of being on his best behavior and let his guard down. The playfulness of the moment was rewarding to document. I find that beyond photographing, I want to bring moments like this back to my own parenting. That's been one of the subtle rewards of this work. I get to observe other fathers in action and reflect on my own family.
The image was taken in January. In Minnesota, that means that conditions for making an exposure are marginal, at best. Tim's house has a huge, lovely picture window, which helped. Most of these images were taken at extreme settings; something like f/2 at 1/15. Not quite fast enough to hand-hold and not quite enough depth of field, even with a wide lens. So if you get your nose up to this print, Tim's face is pretty gauzy. Combined with an expression caught at an odd moment, he seems kind of far away from the scene.
The other lesson from this afternoon was more profound. As I was leaving, Tim quite politely said "No, don't go. It's nice to have a conversation with another adult."
It's easy to think that as photographers we are taking from the people around us. I walked into Tim's house needing an image to help a project grow - I certainly had an agenda. It hadn't occurred to me that the process of being photographed gives something back to the people in front of my camera.
It might be just an afternoon of conversation that didn't revolve around Minecraft is nice, for a change. There might be something empowering about having someone step into your life, for a moment, with a camera. There might be some dignity in the experience of being in front of a camera, when a photographer seems genuinely interested in your life's experience. It's a question that is becoming more and more important to me. How can the act of photographing be an act of giving back to a friend, a stranger, or my community.