A photographer makes space for new fathers to share their experiences

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Love, joy, and isolation are among the varied emotions experienced by the fathers featured in Sophie Harris-Taylor’s latest series

Sophie Harris-Taylor’s latest series Present Fathers embodies her recognisable style: soft, naturally-lit shots, full of baby skin and textured faces, muted colours and gentle vulnerability. Her portraits of fathers with their babies or toddlers radiate such tenderness that it would not be inconceivable to experience pangs of broodiness while looking through them. Quotes from her subjects sit alongside the images. Many express unparalleled love and joy, and a new understanding and appreciation. One father marvels about, “how deeply you get to know, connect and bond […] Only after becoming a dad did I understand many things that my mum did for me”. 

However, there is also a darkness to be found within some of the quotes. Several of the fathers address feelings of isolation, emotional struggle, and suicidal ideation. The disclosures add further depth and significance to the series. It becomes evident that there is a shared experience of a lack of community and support for new fathers. And also a difficulty for new fathers when it comes to articulating the negative emotions bound to arise after such a life-changing event as becoming a parent. 

Present Fathers, then, is partly an attempt to help new fathers experiencing ‘taboo’ thoughts feel less alone and frustrated with themselves. Through collaborating with the fathers, and reflecting on her own partner’s experiences, Harris-Taylor recognises how damaging the mum and baby-centric approach can be. For example, many apps and groups aimed at babies exclude fathers, and healthcare visitors often have the perspective that, ‘if mum and baby are happy, then everyone is happy’. 

However, the willingness of the featured fathers to open up is promising. Harris-Taylor does not underestimate the labour and burden of having a baby as a woman, having experienced this herself. However, she also hopes the work will remind mothers to check on their partner too. When questioned about the future of fatherhood, Harris-Taylor believes there needs to be social evolution such that men experience greater inclusion and regard as a parent, equal in their responsibility to bring up a child. She champions the optimism and accountability depicted in the final quote of the series: ‘Unlearning is harder than it seems, but we must make a change if we want our children to be greater and go further.’

Below, we share a selection of quotes and images from Harris-Taylor’s series, which was styled by Natasha Freeman.

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Bola

Bola, Jasmine and Ocean. From the series Present Fathers © Sophie Harris-Taylor, with styling by Natasha Freeman.

“Knowing that I have a biological offspring is amazing. The feeling was out of this world, especially when [Jasmine] popped out in my presence — it was extraordinary. Ocean’s birth doubled the joy. It wasn’t a case of ‘ah – I’ve had one anyway’. It felt like a new cycle and a completely different experience.”

John

John and Esme. From the series Present Fathers © Sophie Harris-Taylor, Natasha Freeman.

“If I am to be completely forthcoming, endless sleepless nights, a partner who was affected by postnatal depression and juggling a stressful freelance career with absolutely no outside help was a challenge. I also suffer from depression and anxiety and the endless arguments with my partner began to get to me. I became severely depressed to the point where I had to re-attend a crisis centre for those who wish to kill themselves. This also induced a slight sense of shame and embarrassment, as despite supposedly having a wide social circle of emotionally mature friends I had nobody to talk to.”

Joe

Joe and Eli. From the series Present Fathers © Sophie Harris-Taylor, Natasha Freeman.

“Nothing anyone tells you prepares you for [fatherhood]. It is very much a case of being thrown in at the deep end and it can be isolating at times. But, don’t be afraid. It’s in our genes to be paternal, most of it is instincts and gut feeling — you don’t need to be a genius to be a dad.”

Caspar

Caspar and Sid. From the series Present Fathers © Sophie Harris-Taylor, Natasha Freeman.

“It is all pretty wild. To be honest, being overcome with emotion so much is not something I was prepared for. There have been lots of occasions where I just get happy and cry when I think about Sid. She is far more wonderful than I ever could have expected. It makes you understand why your parents love you and tried to protect you. It is hard to understand that kind of love and emotion until you experience it yourself.”

Nathaniel

Nathaniel and Nova. From the series Present Fathers © Sophie Harris-Taylor., with styling by Natasha Freeman.

“Support for new fathers is a tabooed notion. If you don’t have it within your circle or from your father then it’s practically non-existent. There doesn’t seem to be the same community for new dads as there is for mums. I think most of the support I received was through conversations. I encourage all fathers, particularly young or new, to be more open and communicate about how they’re coping or not coping. As parents, we are all sharing a great responsibility to guide a whole new generation of humankind and we shouldn’t take that lightly, and being open about it could take our experience from something overwhelming to something incredible. It’s also imperative to our growth as parents and the relationships we have with our children that we do the work to break and resolve any generational curses we may have inherited from our own fathers. Unlearning is harder than it seems but we must make a change if we want our children to be greater and go further.”

Capella Buncher

Capella Buncher is a freelance writer and award-winning photographer from London. Her work has been exhibited in Please Mind The Flash, an exhibition of work produced under the guidance of Sohrab Hura, and featured in print and online by the BBC, The Sunday Times, Firecracker and Magnum Photos. In the summer of 2020, Buncher won the Ian Parry Scholarship.