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In ‘Portraits of My Father,’ Antoine Didienne examines parenting, masculinity and love through photography

Two years ago, Antoine Didienne had an idea: examine fatherhood through his lens. Literally.

So in November of 2019, the photographer embarked on a personal project he’s calling “Portraits of My Father.”

“The project is an introspection of my own relationship with my father compared to what my relationship is like with my own children today,” the La Mesa resident said. “In an effort to examine and analyze the concepts of fatherhood, masculinity, love and parenting, I have photographed 50 different fathers representing multiple cultural, racial and gender associations to represent the widest breadth of fathers as possible.”

Didienne took some time to talk about his project.

“Benjamin,” by Antoine Didienne

(Courtesy of Antoine Didienne)

Q: What was the inspiration behind this project?

A: I had been looking for some time to give more meaning to my photography and was itching to stretch my storytelling skills on a more long-form project. I really wanted to do something that was both very personal and very relatable on a larger scale. After starting and abandoning a couple other projects that just didn’t feel right, I decided on exploring my own feelings on the topic of fatherhood. It seemed an obvious choice because I was a stay-at-home dad for both of my daughters and my experience of fatherhood could not have been more different than my dad’s experience just a generation ago. I could feel the meaning of the word evolving and simply wanted to explore that and talk about masculinity, parenting and love in a different way.

Q: Your subjects paint quite a diverse picture of fatherhood — was diversity first and foremost in your mind when you started this project?

A: Absolutely. It was crucial to me that the project be as diverse as possible and show as many stories of fatherhood as possible. I wanted diversity in the type of people as well as in the individual experiences and stories of fatherhood I was going to photograph. I wanted to shoot White, Brown and Black stories of fatherhood, dads and/or kids with disabilities, different sexual orientations, etc. How could I portray modern fatherhood without including as many types of people as I could?

“John,” by Antoine Didienne

(Courtesy of Antoine Didienne)

Q: What was the most challenging part of this project?

A: When I conceptualized the project, I set myself a lofty goal of 50 fathers. I knew that I would only be scratching the surface with this number, but I knew that this was a very long-term project. This took me 2 1/2 years to photograph, but I could tell that motivation and perseverance was going to be the real test for me in completing this project. I had to believe wholeheartedly in the concept, aesthetics and validity of the project without knowing if the work was going to resonate at all with an audience. I had not done anything like this before. Another part that was challenging was to give this project a title. It took me most of my first year of shooting to actually settle on “Portraits of My Father.”

Q: The most rewarding?

A: The most rewarding part of this project was to be able to give these photographs to over 50 fathers. I found immense pleasure in being able to do this for strangers. Fathers don’t tend to schedule a photoshoot just for themselves and their kids, and yet knowing that these photos would actually hold an important part in their stories was empowering for me as a storyteller and an artist. And I got to create art about something that mattered to me.

Q: What’s next for you — is there a motherhood project in the offing?

A: I don’t know if I’m the right person to talk about motherhood, but given the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion on Roe v. Wade, there would be plenty to talk about indeed. I have my heart set on a couple of ideas. I would love to work with the blind community for one, as they are often forgotten from the rest of society, and I would also like to work with the transgender community in San Diego on a separate project. As inclusive as I wanted to be in “Portraits of My Father,” finding a transgender father has been unsuccessful so far. I’ve had the privilege of creating friendships with members of the community, and telling their stories feels more important than ever.

For more on this project, go to antoinedidiennephoto.com

“Joko,” by Antoine Didienne

(Courtesy of Antoine Didienne)

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