In Pictures

A different portrait of black fatherhood

Zun Lee was raised in Germany by Korean parents - but as an adult he discovered his real father was a black American with whom his mother had had a brief affair.

A dad hugs his son Image copyright Zun Lee

After this discovery, he began to explore fatherhood among black Americans.

Lee says the US media mainly portrays black fathers in one of two ways:

  • the absent father, often portrayed as a "deadbeat"
  • the traditional family patriarch, as seen in TV programmes such as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

And his project, on display at the Bronx Documentary Centre, in New York, aims for a more balanced and nuanced portrayal.

Billy and daughter Esmeralda Image copyright Zun Lee
Carlos and Selah at the Georgia Aquarium. Atlanta Image copyright Zun Lee

In 2011, Lee began to photograph families from all walks of life across the US, finding his subjects through social media, referrals from friends, or simply approaching them in the street.

Over time, he became friends with a number of black fathers

And, by immersing himself in their daily lives, he gradually gained access to intimate family moments, "scenarios that are fleeting and often hidden from the public realm but nonetheless meaningful".

"Few of the men I met were in traditional relationships, but they were loving, present and responsible fathers nonetheless," he says.

Bedtime with Carlos and his daughter Image copyright Zun Lee
Guy with his children Image copyright ZUN LEE
Guy and his daughter at home Image copyright Zun Lee

By undertaking this project, Lee was able to work through some of the issues he had around his own upbringing.

And it is this emotional connection to the work that he believes makes it so powerful.

Jerell carrying his son over the Brooklyn Bridge Image copyright ZUN LEE
Jerrell and his daughter Image copyright ZUN LEE

Father Figure: Exploring Alternate Notions of Black Fatherhood is at the Bronx Documentary Centre, New York, until 31 March 2018.

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