Fathers with Cameras10 February 2009
It is striking sometimes just how rarely fathers show up in family pictures. The obvious reason for this is that fathers are most often the ones shooting the pictures, not the ones in them. I ask myself, why is this? Because men are more comfortable and competent with technology? Because there is something particularly masculine about photography? This doesn’t seem to be a good enough avenue.
I was recently told about a psychologist who does family photo therapy. He has his clients bring in old albums and interpret the pictures. In this activity the expressions on people’s faces matter, and their poses. It also matters who is in the snapshot and who isn’t. Dad usually can’t be seen, and can’t be seen in a double way. He is not in the static image, and even back then, when it was taken, you couldn’t see his face anyway. It was covered by a Minolta.
A John Mayer song calls us to a important thought:
Didn’t have a camera by my side this time
Hoping I would see the world through both my eyes
How strange to think that our attempts to capture the world can take us out of it so much! When fathers pick up the camera too often they risk missing the very engagement that sees life as something animated and kinetic – and something that involves them as subjects.
On the flip side, how wonderful a thing it can be that fathers perceive and document the family history as they do. Being behind the camera can be, in some way, like the partially-visible mother in the kitchen throughout Thanksgiving Day. There is a sense of gift in all of this. With a camera in hand, there is also a sense of fatherly contemplation. Not only have I myself experienced this, but I remember a few years ago seeing one of my uncles circling the room at a family reunion. He simply walked around the perimeter of the room as his children played a game on the area rug. With obvious enjoyment he noted the conversations and jokes and quirks of the children in their sibling drama. He wasn’t restless or disengaged at all. On the contrary, he was brooding in the most beautiful way a father can.