“A good father is one of the most unsung, unpraised, unnoticed, and yet one of the most valuable assets in our society.”
– Billy Graham
Though I can recall the myriad ways I have met clients over the years, a standout by far is my introduction to Isaiah and his father Nathaniel.
I’d just stepped out of the loo of my local church when a small boy turned to face me and stared silently for what felt like a very long time. I stared back, not knowing what to say but keenly aware of his olive skin, hazel eyes and reddish hair. He broke the awkwardness by asking me if I was a bodybuilder. On saying no, but blatantly flattered by what I took as a compliment, he went on to tell me that his father was, and he had just recently taken part in a competition.
Instantly, my creative spark was ignited as I thought, “I could photograph him; another person to add to my fitness photography portfolio”. Indulging the boy, I asked him to point his father out to me and as soon as we’d left the gents, he pointed in the direction of a muscular man I’d seen before but never spoken to.
After an all too enthusiastic introduction, we spoke briefly like a couple of gym bros, throwing out bro- science phrases like ‘chest-day’, ‘max-bench’ and our mutual irritation of newbies curling in the squat-rack. I steered the conversation to photography and asked him if I could take his picture which unfortunately, he declined due to his no longer being in his peak competition form. Still, contact had been made and our new-found union was officialised by becoming friends on Facebook.
As the media reminded me that Father’s Day was fast approaching, I took the opportunity to contact Nathaniel again and offer him a photo session with his son. This time, he agreed and the date was set.
Though I credit myself for being able to engage and talk to anyone, I was aware that I didn’t really know them so didn’t know what to expect. As is my custom, I had planned their session, writing down the shots I wanted and collecting props but I didn’t know their dynamic. Nathaniel had told me that they’re both playful and like to be silly, so I used that as my jumping off point.
On arrival, Isaiah, an absolutely beautiful boy, was very shy and recovering from a recent cold, spoke with a raspy voice. Nathaniel was confident, but it was clear that both felt a little out of their depth.
Fun Fact: I collect swords. In my home, I have a collection over 30 and still want more. Some people collect vinyl records, others collect shoes, I on the other hand collect sharp, shiny and pointy stabby things.
I divulge this information because, and especially with men, said sharp, shiny and pointy stabby things are an instant point of fascination and conversation. On seeing my collection, Isaiah in particular became very chatty and the ice broke. As I asked about their lives, Nathaniel spoke about the circumstances that led him to become a single parent and raise Isaiah alone and as he continued to do so, I could see the warmth and depth of the love this man had for his son.
They spoke of their routines, with Isaiah telling me of his chores, love of rap music and his girlfriend (the boy is 10 years old). Their bond was so clear and I really needed to capture this. I wanted to photograph their play and silliness. I wanted to take pictures that not only conveyed Nathaniel’s strength and physical prowess, but also the intimacy he carried towards Isaiah.
And that’s what we did.
The session was fun. Isaiah was a hoot, constantly telling stories of lazy Saturdays, martial arts movies and takeaway meals, all the while becoming more and more relaxed before the camera. Nathaniel just rolled with it, smiling and affirming his son.
Telling Isaiah he had 60 seconds to bundle dad was fun and he really got into it, which provided some great action shots. But l also wanted to show convey tenderness and intimacy and it was lovely seeing this boy calm right down and allow his dad to hold him and kiss him on his head. I have taken this shot countless times with mothers and their children and though it always looks great, I wasn’t sure how it would look with a father and son, but I was more than happy with it.
To finish the session, I gave them both the opportunity to be photographed with one my ‘toys’ and Isaiah leapt at the chance, choosing to go with a small Egyptian dagger, while Nathaniel chose something a little more intimidating – a set of very sharp steel Wolverine claws.
The session was great fun and though we went well over time, it gave me the chance to get to know this very good man and see the beautiful dynamics between a single father and his boy.
As I conclude this piece, it is Sunday June 17th – Father’s Day. All over social media, messages of love, gratitude and adoration light up countless screens as people all over the world single out the men who have done so much in their lives. It is wonderful, encouraging and refreshing – a welcome break from the bashing, shaming and criticism that men can often get. It was heart-warming to see men lifted up and their input and presence gratefully acknowledged.
It was a pleasure to photograph these two, but I was particularly touched by Nathaniel, a man whose work ethic, love and tenderness towards his son and resilience in the face of trials that both challenged and inspired me.
Though one can meet clients in very unlikely places, I have found that it always leads to a beautiful outcome.
So here’s to all the dad’s out there, biological and otherwise, doing the very best they can with whatever they have. We acknowledge you and we appreciate you.
And to my own dad, Derrick Carty. Thank you for placing a camera in my hand and holding me steady.
Until the next time ?