Fathers & Sons

Dirk Anschütz

2014 - Ongoing

Fathers and Sons

Portraits of an influential relationship

Fathers and Sons is an ongoing series of double portraits.

I became the father of a boy in 2012 and the change this constantly evolving relationship has brought to my life is hard to overstate. Since I was the single child of a single mother (I never knew my father), I also have to navigate parenthood without a first hand male role model. This gave me an interest in photographically exploring the relationships of other fathers and sons.

Having a child expands and limits your life’s experiences in dramatic ways and generates a complex mix of emotions.

Obviously fathers and sons are incredibly important to each other. A father is the first and often main role model for a son (not exactly a small responsibility). He constantly has to strike a balance between safety and freedom, support and letting his son fail, discipline and improvisation when it comes to raising a son. He also has to reflect on leading his own life and how that will influence his son’s choices.

A son often travels a complicated journey from early worship, to questioning and rebellion, to a more balanced relationship. It’s not uncommon that the adult son returns in a role reversal to help and even to take care of his father.

In the US, views of fatherhood, and manhood in general are shifting.

A man’s role in society is being fundamentally reexamined and expanded. Many new opportunities are opening up for men to lead their lives in new and less restricted ways. Yet this creates plenty of doubt and anxiety leading to a pushback on a private and political level. Many of my portraits bear witness to these changes. At the same time I want to make sure to keep the powerful emotional connections between fathers and sons clearly visible, too.

I want the images to feel vaguely like memories since memories are an essential bond between family members, and so the images are shot loosely to incorporate the environment with all it’s weird little details.

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  • Jason & Chester, Jupiter, FL, 2018. Jason is a firefighter and surfer. He's very concerned about safety in his professional life, but he is also confident in his physical abilities. Like everything in life and fatherhood, it's about balance.

  • Vooda & Rahmel, Brooklyn, NY, 2019. Vooda is an artist who collaborates with his sonic a series of videos. He taught Rahmel meditation and encourages him to meditate often to create space for himself in a crowded life.

  • Wyatt & Mile, West Point, NY, 2019. Mike graduated from West Point 30 years before Wyatt. He spent four years in the army before rejoining civilian life. He returned to West Point to celebrate Wyatt's graduation.

  • Santiago & Adrian, Santa Fe, NM, 2017. They are immigrants from Mexico. Santiago can't see and was about to go to a boarding school for the blind, when we took this image. Adrian is wearing a mask, because he received a kidney transplant two weeks earlier. They are very devout Christians and members of a close knit church community.

  • Austin & John-Michael, Oakland, NJ, 2018. Sports is a way for many fathers and sons to relate to each other. Roughhousing is a big part of the physical contact between boys and their dads. This is roughhousing on a slightly more advanced level. Austin is a former state champion. He's now a wrestling coach and has been training John-Michael since age three.

  • Bill & Will, Chevy Chase, MD, 2018. Bill comes from a working class background. He went to college on a tennis scholarship and became successful with his business. He and his family are members of a country club. Will loves golf and plays a lot. He and Bill worked on his swing throughout our shoot.

  • Elliot & Mike, Brooklyn, NY 2018. Mike has an Italian father and an American mom. He grew up in Brooklyn and a small town in Southern Italy.This is an image that shows how fatherhood is changing. For Mike and and just about all younger dads it's completely normal to change the diapers of their babies, but when I was a kid very few men would have done that and even fewer would have allowed a photographer in the room.

  • Nick & Jan, Woodstock, NY, 2017. Jan moved here from Germany. He's a doctor and heads the neurological ICU at a NYC hospital. Nick is a high school student. He plays piano and trumpet and is on the soccer team. They are both very busy people, but they very much connect during their time together.

  • Paula & Jonathan, Brooklyn, NY, 2018. Paula is a father who transitioned from male to female when she was 61 years old. Both she and Jonathan are pastors. Paula, when she was a man, was a televangelist and ran a mega-church on Long Island. After she transitioned she lost all her jobs. She now leads a congregation in Colorado. Jonathan, who is a pastor in Brooklyn, wrote a book about his experience of his dad becoming a woman. They gave a TED talk together shortly after our shoot.

  • Rabee & Jude, Portland, ME, 2018. Rabee is from Beirut, Lebanon, he works as a MD in a hospital. Here he is reading to Jude. A fundamental and beautiful chore of parenthood.

  • C & Jerahmel, Sing Sing Correctional Facility, NY, 2018. Jerahmel was taken from his parents when he was a little boy and raised by relatives. C took a demanding course for inmates to become better fathers. The idea behind the course is that, if you can be a good father, even though you're incarcerated, the likelihood of your son going to jail or you returning to jail after serving your sentence, goes down. They are posing for a polaroid during Jerahmel's visit with his dad.

  • Caleb & Matt, Annandale, MN, 2014. Caleb, who is in his early 20s here, has a developmental disability and is non-verbal. Matt is an actor and he noticed that when Caleb was a young boy, he became very interested when Matt did his acting and movement exercises. They started doing them together and it opened up another way of communicating. Matt later cofounded an organization that provides acting and arts education for people with cognitive disabilities. Caleb had a big influence not just on Matt's personal life but on his career as well.

  • Yansen & Hector, Bay Shore, NY, 2015. Hector and all of Yansen's siblings were or are working in the banking industry. Yansen decided to become an actor and hip hop dancer.

  • David & Alex, Narragansett, RI, 2020. David is a amateur triathlete. He and his wife moved the family from Brooklyn to Rhode Island for a month during Covid.

  • Andy & Angus, Montauk, NY, 2020. Andy had to shut down his Brooklyn carpentry business during the height of Covid and spent much time in Montauk. He and Angus like to go for rides on an electric motor bike.

  • George & Lyle, Brooklyn, NY, 2017. George's wife, Lyle's mom passed away suddenly when Lyle was five and George had to guide his children through that traumatic experience while dealing with his own grief.

  • Sean & Edwin, Brooklyn, NY, 2017. Sean has some special needs and Edwin works hard to make the trains run on time in Sean's world. I always thought that their mix of toughness and tenderness not only represents an idea pf fatherhood but of old school Brooklyn, too.

  • Ramon & Mono, San Antonio, TX, 2019. Ramon and Moni are members of the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation. They work together to preserve and strengthen the culture of indigenous people of the Spanish Missions area. They also founded an organization that helps young indigenous and hispanic fathers.

  • Albert & Paul, Havertown, PA, 2014. Al was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer not long before our shoot. Paul is an artist who works all over the world. He cleared his schedule to spend the remaining time with his dad. They were nearing the end of their journey together and Al passed away a few months after we took this portrait.

  • Andrew & Homer, Brooklyn, NY, 2016. Homer is nine days old in this image and I think you can see here the foundation of everything. The love between a parent and a child is so primal and fundamental. It's glorious and terrifying at the same time and it changes your life forever.