A Photograph of My Father

Most of the pictures people post of my father are more flattering. He is young and in his Air Force uniform, or he is playing with his grandchildren, smiling—but for me, this is the photograph of my father. He was, in many ways, flawed, but no more than any of us, I suppose, and I guess that's why I like this image. It is not idealized; it is not flattering. It is, I think, the most honest photo of my father I or anyone else has ever taken.

I was out of the Army just a year, taking a black-and-white photo class with MICA's continuing studies program, in Dover for just a few days, so we decided to go for a walk and take pictures together. He drank the night before, so even by mid-afternoon he was still a bit sluggish, but he grabbed up his Canon F-1, loaded up some film and we walked around the block. He didn't walk around much, or even leave the house that often by this time, and it was a cold day for late April. His legs bothered him—he couldn't get very far without feeling pain and discomfort—so we took our time, snapping pics of plants and shadows and other trivial things. We talked about what my plans were now that I had just finished and failed my year of writing the Great American Novel. The photo class was the first step, I told him. Perhaps I'd take another, or go back to school full time, pursue photography as a proper career, maybe even teach. There was a time he would have told me to get a real job, art is just a hobby, but he didn't. I sometimes think my time as an Army photojournalist had proven the value of the craft to him. I don't know. But he encouraged me, told me I could do it if I worked hard at it.

We turned down our alley and came into the yard from behind the garage. I had a single shot left on the roll of film, so I asked him to turn around, let me take his picture.

Harry, 2007

I'm not sure if he's impatient here—by now he was tired and his legs hurt—or if he is just resigned to the fact that, though he does not look his best, this is just simply happening. Maybe he's just trying to help his son with a school project and is being a good subject. What's important to me is that we took the photo together, and that's the reason it will always be the photograph of my father.