As a professional photographer, before I became a dad, I was constantly asked to photograph babies. My quick response was, “Can you take them to Sears and call me back when they’re about three or four?”
On the night I became a father, my soul went through a seismic shift. Suddenly, I was in love with tiny toes, fingers, soft wisps of hair and eyes that brimmed with the reflection of a brand new world. Poop no longer bothered me, pee even less. A baby’s cry became my challenge to decode, to understand and to sooth. The smell of a baby’s head was something out of this world.
All of the things I once thought were so important in my life had lost their glow. A new world order took their place, very foreign from my past priorities. My ambitions no longer focused on financial success, nor on worldwide adventure. In a spiritual transformation, it was as if one of my hands stretched out grasping the past, touching my father’s hand. My other hand was caressing the future, the life of my son, with me bridging the space between.
My dad had always been there for me and was a consistent inspiration. Becoming a father inspired me to relive many of the same things I had experienced with my dad. They became rituals: baseball, wrestling, building forts. Becoming a new dad gave me the opportunity to take the spirit of my own father and pass it to my son, so he could pass it on to his child. My world was no longer just about me. Now it was focused on an entire universe of connections and possibilities.
Soon after becoming a dad, I found myself running up to friends and sharing with them my new excitement, as if I was the first person on earth to discover parenthood. Many of my friends who already had children smiled knowingly. Others had a “just you wait” look of caution on their faces. Some warned, “wait until he is two…wait until he is a teenager”. Friends who didn’t have children offered up a list of reasons why not to have children (usually about their careers). No matter how hard I tried to explain my lightning-bolt conversion, I soon understood that my journey into the cosmos was something that could not be fully explained to someone who had not yet crossed over.
On the night my son Quincy was born, I wrote him a letter, about my dreams for his future, my own fear, my gratitude. A few months later, I wrote him another letter, celebrating his many accomplishments and profound new skill – crawling. Later, when Quincy performed the miracle of miracles: standing up and actually balancing alone, I wrote another letter about that joyful day and added it to the growing pile. After nearly 22 years I have a tall stack of letters – from a father to his son.
Beside the box of letters to Quincy, I have a vault of photographs, documenting nearly every breath he’s taken. With every snap of the shutter, something inside of me tapped on my soul, reminding me that this moment would soon be gone. My camera was the only way I knew how to freeze time. As each of his birthdays approached, I brought Quincy into my studio, dressed him up in my black – size 42 long – tuxedo and posed him in front of a paper-white background.
As the grid of annual tux photos grew, the changes through the years showed every transformation: his developing happy personality, his brief interest in football then his growing passion for tennis. The sixteenth photo, one of him tossing up the car keys on the day he got his driver’s license, documents a classic life passage. Later, standing with his bicycle wheel, after his first pedal across America, is another Quincy benchmark. Last year’s photo shows my son, looking into the future with a symbol of his new passion – and metaphor – a sailboat next to his bare feet. This growing tapestry-like riddle tells the story of Quincy’s metamorphosis into the man he has become.
I’ve been a dad for nearly 22 short years. When friends and clients ask me if I would be willing to photograph their baby, it’s as if the clouds part and bright rays of sunshine warm my face.
” Are you kidding? Please, give me that honor.”
*The opening images were taken from my Instagram feed. You can follow my account by clicking @ChrisBriscoe.