In the last few months, the coronavirus pandemic has upended the lives of families across the world, thrusting them together as schools and daycare closed and work, for many, turned remote. For photographers, whose jobs often involve crisscrossing the globe for months out of the year, the pandemic has brought particular challenges—and silver linings.
“Our life is not built around me occupying so much time or space in the home,” says American photographer Aaron Huey. “But it has also allowed me something I have literally never had before: dinner at home with my own family every day for several months in a row.”
For Father’s Day, we asked photographers who are fathers to share what parenting during a crisis has taught them about themselves and their work. Here, they describe the joy of connecting with their families in new ways, the creative outlets they found as their lives ground to a halt, and the new hopes and fears they have now as the world slowly begins to reopen.
Andrew Mangum (Baltimore, Maryland)
I became a father on April 21, 2012, when my son, Fox, was born. Being a father is wonderful, and easily the most important aspect of my life. You quickly learn the importance of fluidity. So, in a way, being a father prepared me for the current situation we’re in. A father is like warm ice cubes, that’s what the poet Bruce Beasley would say. One thing that has changed is that now I get to spend more time with the people I love, watching them learn in real time as we take on more schooling at home, or watching them cope with not being able see their friends. My wife and I have let go a bit. Maybe this is temporary, or maybe it’s time for new growth. It’s hard to say, but living in the moment sure is enjoyable right now.
I put a lot of faith into the mentality of floating. Of being like water. Being adaptable. Going with the flow. In some cases this might appear as not trying hard enough, or pushing myself to some proverbial limit, or however you wish to interpret that idea. But I’m not certain that’s true. Instead I find myself in the exact situation I’m supposed to be in because I’m not forcing my way into the world. I’m taking it as it comes to me. If, in your life, you are in a moment when something is totally relevant to your meaning, to your essence, to your purpose, to your feelings—don’t turn away from it. Those minutes, moments, and experiences do not return. Don’t think that what you pass up today will come back in some other form tomorrow. All life is endlessly non-repeating—of course, as it repeats itself.
Al J Thompson (Bronx, New York)
As a family we took refuge in the process of slowing down and taking long walks outdoors as we noticed the fine details in things we take for granted. In fact, we feel the days go by a lot slower than normal. But nothing beats being around the closest people in my life—my wife and our children. That being said, it has been challenging. Despite the beautiful process, no longer do we ask for normal playdates outside the closest ones to us. As a result, we continue to feel a sense of isolation seeping in. I’m forced to ask myself, “What is normal? And how do we travel back to the days where we can shake the hands of a colleague…or stranger?”
Through the pandemic, I discovered that some of the most challenging times of my lifetime have been child-growth. Outside the normal routine of washing hands and wearing a mask in public spaces, we make attempts of teaching balance by letting them know this won’t last forever.
Everyday I wake up with some form of hope that this will all end. In the center of that hope comes the realization that I’ve been subconsciously adapting to the new norms, though not as smoothly as I’d like. Photographing people, both on a personal and professional level, has been challenging to say the least. How can you accurately photograph the story on a person’s face when he or she is wearing a mask? A mask is emblematic of being in hiding, or saying, “I can barely breathe!” Nevertheless, it is a challenge I look forward to facing.
Chien-Chi Chang (Graz, Austria)
I have been a stranger in strange lands for my entire adult life, crisscrossing the globe to make images. I thought I would always live this way, touching down in Graz, the home of my heart, where my two little children live.
Four months ago, my life as I knew it—and everyone else’s lives, too—came to a screeching halt with the novel coronavirus outbreak. I have been grounded. My neighbors have gone from quiet and polite to silent and distant. Suspicious looks are common, as is blatant fear of the virus. Due to the travel restrictions, I have turned the camera inward, photographing and filming my daily existence in confinement. It is a dark self-portrait of isolation, loneliness, and frustration, punctuated with joy when I spend time with my children.
Restrictions eased a few weeks ago. Perhaps eventually people will carry on with their ordinary lives, but from a safe distance. Deep down, though, I think we’re all convinced that the post-pandemic era will not be the same as the world we used to live in. Last year, I collected 71 boarding passes; this year so far, seven! And I don’t look forward to getting on a plane anytime soon. I used to think that without photography, I am nothing. When I had kids, I realized that, without love, I am less than nothing.
David La Spina (Brooklyn, New York)
At first, a lot of our exploration stopped when the pandemic hit. Our daughter, Sidonia, was getting to the point in her life where she does enjoy her inside time. Her self-guided play and role playing with dolls started to peak, and she began singing songs into my voice recorder and, of course, she figured out how to search the web. She’s figured out innovative ways to be with her friends—like “holding hands” with her best friend Margo using a short stick.
Recently, we have had to discuss why everyone is upset over policing practices. We had to parse the notion that all police don’t hate people, but that society at large has a chronic issue that aligns along race—she may be too young to completely understand slavery. I was working on images of police aggression by Malike Sidibe in my role a freelance editor at the New York Times Magazine, and I showed her what was happening on the streets.
Being a parent in this time has taught me to put down the phone. Being present is important and a very difficult thing to maintain. But being a photographer has been odd: There is no work but everything should be photographed now. And while we always long for time to make work, when presented with a lot more free time, the escape of photography doesn’t call as much.
Ivan Kashinsky (Topanga Canyon, California)
When the schools shut down and the babysitters stopped coming, our family went through major transitions. The sheer number of hours we have spent together exploring local trails and creeks or hanging out at home making pancakes and reading books has led to a connection that is noticeably deeper than before the pandemic. Now instead always yelling, “mommy, mommy,” my boys are screaming, “daddy!” That makes me smile. They are both at such a precious age—Piuma is turning three this month and Nahuel is six—and it slips by so fast. I’m trying to hold on to this moment and enjoy it. I’m thankful for this unexpected gift of a deeper relationship with them. Together, one day at a time, we grow stronger as a family.
Daniele Volpe (Guatemala City, Guatemala)
After the first COVID-19 case was diagnosed in Guatemala and the government imposed precautionary measures, my house was fully occupied: it became a home school for my daughter Camila; and a home office for Eva, my wife, and for me, no longer traveling frequently. With our day-to-day life changed, we established a new routine. After meeting our daily obligations, our goal was to enjoy every corner of the house: read on the sofa, watch movies in the bedroom, grill on the roof, and cook, cook, cook. We started to joke, “We could get used to this.”
After two or three weeks, we began to face new challenges. I’m Italian and, as always, I was also in touch with my parents during the worst of the pandemic in my country. Camila was part of those calls, and she was very scared for her grandparents because she knew the risk the disease poses for older people. I remember she cried, and I asked to my parents to be more careful about how they speak to us about the escalation of COVID-19 cases in Italy.
As parents, it is hard to give Camila answers. Each day, as my wife and I face her questions, we let conversation flow naturally rather than prepare a speech to explain the situation. Yet Camila is 10 years old, and smart, and she has found her own way to live in this confusing time.
The pandemic has taught us a calmer approach, to take the time to think about what really matters—as a parent, a photographer, and a human being. Of course, I really miss the time I spent on assignments and working with colleagues in the field. But I’ve gained a lot of time with my daughter and wife. Since we can’t lead a normal life, my wife and I are trying to make sure Camila feels safe and happy.
On our first day of freedom after two months of isolation in Milan, one of the places most affected by the pandemic, I discovered my son Diego had lost his familiarity with nature. While visiting a park in the city, I noticed that he was even afraid of ants. To immerse ourselves in nature again, my wife, my son, and I took refuge in the Alps. My father joined us and, for a couple of days, three generations—my father, my son, and I—found ourselves walking in the woods.
I lost my mother during this pandemic. Together, we lost a mother, a wife, and a grandmother. These last few days have been our first opportunity to find ourselves, without a filter, in nature—and to rethink our relationships now in the absence of a woman who always united us. I’ve had the chance to reflect on what it means to be a father, with the honor and duty to pass on my parents’ teachings to my son. And I’ve had the challenge of finding a new relationship with my father.
Being a father has taught me a lot about myself. It has taught me fear and courage at the same time, and realigned the values of my life. This sense of responsibility has become part of my photography, giving depth to my approach. I photograph less, but I try to make what I do “heavy.” I feel renewed—and a stronger need to document my time on this planet to tell my story to my son. It’s a memory shift.
Moises Saman (Amman, Jordan)
Our daughter Meyan was born last March when my wife and I were living in New York. About two months before her first birthday, as the coronavirus was beginning to spread, we relocated the family overseas to Amman, Jordan, where my wife had taken a new job with the United Nations.
Just like other working families, juggling home life and our careers had been a huge challenge before the coronavirus—especially when work meant being away from each other for days, sometimes weeks, at a time in our child’s development when creating routines is so important. But this dynamic came to a forceful halt in March of this year, when Jordan imposed one of the strictest lockdowns in the world in response to the pandemic.
Since then, it has been such a joy to be a constant presence in my daughter’s life, being part of the extraordinary and mundane moments of daily life under lockdown, all of which are shaping what will be her first memories. One such routine that my daughter really seems to enjoy, and that I hope she will one day remember, takes place every afternoon: flying a kite from the roof of our apartment building. Kite-flying has become a very popular lockdown pastime among youth in Amman. Every afternoon, you can spot dozens of homemade kites high in the sky, a beautiful sight above an otherwise quiet and empty city under curfew.
Muhammad Fadli (Jakarta, Indonesia)
When my wife, daughter, and I decided to isolate ourselves, I thought about the potential boredom, stress, and anxiety that might came along with it. But I was more worried for my daughter who, as a very active kid, would not be able to do a lot of her favorite things. It turned out, however, that she has been the happiest one of us at home. It’s been a learning moment for me. As an adult, it’s easy to forget that there are good things around you now matter how difficult the situation is. Living in isolation has offered something else for me, too: Life often runs too fast, so it’s good to slow down a bit and give ourselves a moment to reflect and appreciate little things.
My only concern now is that this will be my daughter’s first year in school. The Indonesian government has started to ease its restrictions, planning for schools to reopen while the case count is still growing at an alarming rate. This thought of going back to normal life makes me really nervous.
Jonas Bendiksen (Nesoddtangeen, Norway)
We’re lucky to live outside of Oslo in a small community on the Oslofjord, so we were never really locked in. We could have picnics and roam around the woods and along the coast. Here, my youngest daughter Billie rests on a tree stump she found while Boe, my other daughter, plays around. We had been cooking pancakes on my camping stove, and she was getting tired and took some time out for herself atop this perch.
I know very well the distress and tragedy so many have endured in this crisis, but I will look back on this time with some fondness. Since my wife is a doctor and was working throughout, it fell to me to be home with the kids while schools and daycare were closed. We got in some quality time that we otherwise would have missed in the hustle and bustle of daily life. We had to find new things to do, new things to explore every day.
For me, the frustration was mostly about my own work as an independent artist, to put away my to-do list and try to be in the moment. I didn’t always succeed, for sure. But this time taught me some lessons about how to step away from all the so-called “important” things I have to do, and to be present in the moment. Kids are amazingly good at that. Taking pictures of my family also became my little side project, both because I felt it was a time we will always remember, but also because I mentally needed to create something. Having dropped most of my other planned projects, one of my biggest fears was to be idle for an indeterminate amount of time, so taking pictures was my way to calm myself down.
My kids are among the lucky ones, since they didn’t have too many restraints on them and could always play outside. In Norway, almost nobody wore face masks, and still don’t. So there aren’t so many visual cues for them that this moment is different than all the others. But, of course, they know about the abstract coronavirus that closed down their nursery school and prevented them from seeing their friends. So we have talked about the virus, but I don’t think they have been exposed to the seriousness of the epidemic like so many other children around the world have.
Jasper Doest (Vlaardingen, Holland)
I don’t have any siblings. My parents would have liked me to have a brother or sister, but it wasn’t meant to be. My mom has asked me more than once if I missed having siblings, and to be honest, I never really did. How could I? I never really understood what it would mean.
When I became the father of Merel, it was love at first sight. But I had little experience with children, and there is no guidebook for parenting, so I started to look closely at the things I value in my life and the things I would do differently. It changed me, and a desire sprang from somewhere deep inside of me to give Merel the experience I never had: life with a brother or sister. Three years after welcoming our first daughter, my wife gave birth to another girl.
I love seeing them growing up together and, as they do, I grow with them. Though I laugh when they are frustrated with each other—knowing this aspect of childhood was easier for me—they teach me about unconditional love, support, teamwork, and tolerance without even being aware of doing so.
Paolo Verzone (Barcelona, Spain)
This is the story of how I never won my daughter Sofia’s sculpture of Baby Yoda. When I saw she had made this sculpture, I asked her if I could have it. She answered, “You’ll have to earn it.” She challenged me to play tic-tac-toe with her every day. We played extensively during the lockdown and followed strict rules. I came close to winning many times but never did. In the end, she decided to give it to me as a gift. It was one of those special moments during the lockdown.
Now the challenge has started again, but this time with a sculpture of a red bicycle. This story is to be continued …
Aaron Huey (Seattle, Washington)
The coronavirus lockdown made me acutely aware of my family’s privilege. We live in a place where we have a lot of space and were able to spend much of these past months exploring, building, and making things. We have also been shielded from much of the pain felt by people living in densely packed apartments in cities around the world.
Most of our outlets for energy and family bonding were creative, and often revolved around a daily “Dad Art Hour”—which actually lasted one to three hours. Activities ranged from taking walks around the neighborhood with my four-year-old Juno, photographing plants with a macro lens, to building things like catapults or “Corona Olympics” obstacle courses with my 10-year-old son.
As a photographer who usually travels more than half the year, this time has been challenging because our life is not built around me occupying so much time or space in the home. But it has also allowed me something I have literally never had before: dinner at home with my own family every day for several months in a row, and the opportunity to do things on a more regular basis like “Dad Art Hour.” My hope is that I can continue some of these rituals as I get swept back into the swirling world that takes me away from my family so often. I pray that I will remember these tiny moments and how they are really much bigger than any I can find “out there” when I begin to move again.
George Steinmetz (Glen Ridge, New Jersey)
The pandemic has been difficult for our three college-age children. Our daughter had to return home in the middle of her semester abroad at University College London, and our twin sons, who just graduated from high school, missed the traditional victory lap of graduation, prom, and parties to celebrate their 12 years of schooling. To honor their achievements, we bought flags of the colleges the boys will be attending next year and hung them from our front porch.
I feel quite fortunate that my family members are all healthy, and the pandemic has been sort of a prolonged working staycation. My wife and I are about to have an empty nest, and this is the last time we will all be under the same roof for an extended period of time. As a person who travels the world for a living, spending many weeks or months out of the country on photo assignments, this is has been the last great hurrah of family life. My wife—who is used to commuting to New York City, an hour each way by train—now has only a few steps to her dining room office. We all take turns cooking meals, which have been surprisingly good and varied, and everyone looks forward to a lively conversation about the news of the day around the kitchen table. For us, the pandemic has had a silver lining, teaching us the enduring value of home and family.