ABSENT; THE FACT OF BEING

“We are all born to broken people on their most honest day of living.” (Dan Smith, Wooden Heart, 2010)

I never met my father. All I have is a single picture of us together when I was just a few months old. What has been left along with this oddly cherished snapshot is a massive void where my father might have been. At the age of 19 I was given his address after my mother hired a private detective. With bravado I barely recognize now I took my chances and went to meet him. When I arrived I was turned away by his new wife with little more than a feeble excuse, unsuccessful at catching even a glimpse of my father. This experience affected me deeply and I tore this man from my life even further, completely burying my feelings of anger, confusion, and questioning. It wasn’t until I turned 30 years old that I even thought to look him up on any social media platforms. When I did I found pictures of a man whose eyes became squinted lines as he smiled the way my own eyes do. He was laughing and raising his family exuding love I never knew and what struck me most was the fact that to the people in his life now he was not an absent father.

Absent, as a body of work aims to shine a light on the emotional complexities of family life which are deeply influenced by longing, expectation, and responsibility. Drawing on conversations with people that have also grown up with an absent father, I use photography to translate shared experiences. However, these stories are told to me within private conversations and I feel are not mine to retell in entirety. Large format portraits then serve to document the privilege of intimacy between myself and these people. Supporting those singular images are constructed still lives directly based on moments pulled from those same conversations.  Additionally snapshots collected from participants of the fathers that were not or could not be in their lives, similar to the one of my own father, round out the topography of the work. The installation of these images in a non linear timeline hints at individual biography but also references the connectivity of each story to illustrate the proliferating experience of fatherlessness in our culture. This process aims to subvert conventions of communication about the process of coming into oneself as an adult in relationship to the imperfect beings who raise us, or who chose not to.

As of the last census in 2017 nearly 1 in 4 American children lived in a home that did not include their fathers. The Fatherhood Project states that, “Nearly one-third of such fathers report communicating with their children less than once a month, and 27 percent say they have not seen their children at all in the past year.”  Many websites concerned with, what has been coined the “father factor”, attribute nearly all social ills, from drug abuse to poor academic involvement, with fatherlessness. These statistics and reductions do not take into account the broad spectrum of experiences nor the many forms that fatherlessness can take throughout a single lifetime. Many people are certainly born into what most envision when they hear the words “absent father”. Others have to endure mental illnesses of one or both parents, years inching towards the removal of a relationship with their fathers, and stories passed down that can be hard to disseminate. All the while often harboring, as many of us secretly do, the unarticulated guilt associated with complex emotions towards one’s family. 

The loss of something culture tells us should be as central a part of our lives as a father, has no easy path to conciliation. More broadly these indexes and investigation contemplates what is present in absence, generational grief, and the complication of being a human raised by humans.