Fathers with Cameras

10 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. 

wheresdadI 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.

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.



  1. Interesting thoughts re cameras. I find it difficult to take enough photos at family gatherings etc, because I get caught up in whatever’s going on, and this is not an area where I can easily ‘multi-task’. My partner usually takes plenty.

    Maybe this will change as more people have their own personal(rather than a family) camera.

  2. You’re on to something with the note about personal cameras coming into vogue. It certainly makes for a more egalitarian society. Fathers (or whoever) don’t have to be the one with the family camera in hand. Those best at multitasking will become the family photographers.

    That said, it also concerns me that cameras have become so individualized. I’m thinking of cell phone photography, wherein the primary use seems to be for acquiring low-resolution snaps of “friends.” Instead of a memoralizing of activities, the photos are taken to collect a superficial collection of buddies. Cell phone video seems to hold more promise in this respect. At least then there’s some life being captured.

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