Father - A Photographic Series by Eoin Carey

Marianne Stenger
12th June 2022

In honour of Father’s Day this year, we’re featuring Father; an ongoing photographic series by Irish photographer Eoin Carey. 

The idea for the project was born after he had his own daughter, nearly six years ago. Along with a desire to document the everyday routines of parenting, he was also curious about the transition men go through when they become fathers. 

“The act of being a parent is caring, emotional and nurturing. These qualities aren’t stereotypically associated with men, but all fathers have to be that for a child, and a lot of them are. It’s just that it happens behind closed doors,” he says. 

“I'd also never seen fatherhood represented in art, and this felt like a reflection of what the experience of fatherhood can be like. You're considered a supporting role in some ways.” 

We had the opportunity to ask him more about the project and how it got started, as well as the idea behind it and what he hopes people will take from it. 

How did the idea for your series Father come about?  

I think the pressures of work and the intensity of the commercial world meant that from the time I graduated, when I was doing a lot more experimental stuff, I turned the volume down a bit on my passionate and creative pursuits. 

The projects I enjoy most are the ones where I get to work with normal people, and not necessarily models or performers. This type of work is difficult to organise, because you're kind of at the mercy of people's schedules and lives, but it can be so rewarding. It has an extra quality to it that things that are posed or rehearsed just don’t have. 

So I hadn't been doing much personal work, but when I had my daughter, I felt a sense of urgency to do something for myself. It made me think harder about my work across the board. 

Along with that, I had become a father, which was something I’d never experienced. I felt a kind of desperation to make something. Part of it was also that I wanted to record what was happening in my life and the experience of having a child. 

But it's a paradox, because you physically can't. I'm a single parent, and have been since my child was born, so it was sort of Bedlam. There was so much nuance and beauty and chaos. Over time, as she went through all the different stages, I began to lament the missed opportunity of documenting all the little things that happened. 

Despite all the selfies and footage we have of our children, the camera is very rarely turned around on the parents. Certainly not in unguarded moments when your house is a tip and you're a wreck. So I felt like this needed to be represented. 

I think because of the intensity and the emotion of that time, it passes by so quickly. I think most parents experience that, at least in those first few months or years. It's sort of like micro grief as things just evaporate. Your child suddenly grows out of your hands and then they're too big. That's how it is almost week by week.

As a father yourself, do you feel there’s a lack of positive representation of fatherhood in mainstream media? 

The idea of parenting caught me off guard. I was not prepared to be a parent and it was a really unexpected life event. The choice to do this project on fathers is where it becomes a little bit autobiographical. Even though I didn't necessarily want to be in the project, I wanted to pay it back to other parents in some way. 

Around this time, I was also reflecting on being a dad and a man. Parenthood is a massive experience anyway, but I had thoughts about it in terms of men because there's so much discourse at the moment about the negative impact that masculinity and men have had on the planet. 

Fatherhood was fascinating for me in a way, because it felt like one arena in society or culture where men are a minority. The arrival of a child is heavily maternal, and the effect that I noticed was that a lot of men withdraw. 

When reaching out to dads to ask them to be part of the project, I noticed that there was a lot of reluctance and hesitation. I think part of it is that parenthood is filled with judgement and there's a self-consciousness about doing it right or being good enough. 

When I did start to work with the dads, it didn’t matter what time of day I would come around, they'd have cleaned the house and have it looking like a catalogue, which was exactly what I was trying to get away from. But what I read from this was that fathers and men can be equally houseproud, and equally insecure about what people might think of them. 

Of course, things have changed so much, even since my child was born. But my early experience was that I was often the only man going to the baby groups, and my pals were all mums. So I just felt like there was a real need to represent men as fathers. 

I’ve seen some projects about fathers, but they tend to be autobiographical projects or essay style projects, where the artist is reflecting on their relationship with their own father or an absent father. 

The main thing that I came away with is that fatherhood is actually not very well defined. In terms of art, it's certainly not nearly as nuanced a concept as motherhood, which is represented in so many ways. 

I think men are much more reluctant to expose themselves or be vulnerable. Men out of my generation and older have been cultured out of that vulnerability. There's a point in a child's life where they’re expected to ‘become a man.’ 

But the act of being a parent is caring, emotional and nurturing. These qualities aren’t stereotypically associated with men, but all fathers have to be that for a child, and a lot of them are. It’s just that it happens behind closed doors. For some men, it might even be the first time they have connected with that side of their personality. So I was so curious about this transition.

In practical terms, how did you go about finding the dads you’ve featured in your series? 

I started as close as I could, with friends. Eventually, I started to ask around to see if the dads I’d worked with knew anybody else who might want to be involved in the project. 

I had never undertaken a project like this, so I had some imposter syndrome about reaching out to total strangers. I wanted to treat it like a development phase to see who I could work with, while also testing out different ideas. 

Mainly, I really wanted to work with dads over a longer space of time and meet them many times, rather than just doing a campaign of men with babies. 

One of the big challenges was actually executing the ideas I had, because I noticed some points where my ideas were out of sync with reality. For instance, my initial thought was that teenagers would spend lots of time in their parents’ home and have all kinds of interactions with them. 

But actually, that's not the case. The older kids get, the less they're physically even in the same room with their parents, so I realised it would require a slightly different approach to document them together. So it was little things like this that I came up against all the time.

What’s the most important thing you hope people will take away from your series?  

I hope it will help people, both men and women, to see men and masculinity in a different light. I'm not even saying that all fathers are men, because I was honoured to be able to work with a trans woman who's still a dad to her kids.  

So the definition of fatherhood is not like a neatly packaged thing.  

I really hope that the men looking at this will see themselves and see the importance of their role and the work they do in their kids’ lives and for society at large. I think the biggest gift you can give to society is to parent your children with as much attention and kind of care as you can.

Despite the diversity in family situations, fatherhood is a very shared experience and I wanted to create a body of work that would start a conversation about the deeper levels of this experience.

Biography:

Eoin Carey is a portrait and documentary photographer based in Glasgow. He works in the arts and culture industry throughout the UK and Ireland, and shoots creative portraiture for editorial, publicity and advertising. His work has been published in The Guardian, The Times, FT, The Stage, Outside Magazine and She Shreds along with many poster campaigns. To see more of his work, you can visit his website or follow him on Instagram @eoin_carey.

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