When I was growing up, whenever my dad got into any sort of argument with my mom over something banal (the most common cause being a joke deemed too off-color, annoying, childish, etc.) I would say something in his defense or just affirm my approval by laughing. Even though this argument never actually placated my mom, every time he would turn to me and say, in a tone of voice that suggested this unconditionally proved he was beyond reproof “See, she thinks I’m funny.” And when my mom gave her follow-up disapproving grunt, he would add with a smirk, “You just don’t understand me. Sara and I understand each other though.”
And it was true, we did understand each other. Except that as I got older, I began to realize (like all people do at some point) that there were many parts of my dad I had no comprehension about as a young child. While some of these were benign, others were difficult to reconcile. My dad was not the immaculate wizard that I once thought he was.
The more I actually learned about my dad, the more that childhood idolatry faded. Yet as the bluntness of these pictures suggest, I am still extremely close to my dad, and grateful that he allowed me to take and publicly share these images. His willingness to participate in this project had no conditions, except his affirmation of my mom’s firm demand for “no naked photographs.” As if they had to ask.
While part of this project is photojournalistic in nature, a documentation of a day in the life of 60-year-old David Alexander Katz, the other half is about my own experience of what it is like to go home when home has lost its authority. As an only child who spent the vast majority of her first five years (and after that, evenly split between school) within five hundred feet of her house, it perhaps took me longer than most to realize that the vocabulary, lifestyle, and values of my family were not universal.
Now, to return home is to feel like a well-informed guest. I am still in the know. I am well schooled in the lingo and rituals, and yet I have also gained the outsider’s critical eye for detail. Parts of my dad that never seemed interesting or unique (i.e. worth photographing) now appear like new discoveries.
If there was a challenging aspect to this project it was that whereas while away from home I was confident in the idea, after being home for a bit to shoot it became difficult to see the point. As my dad put it after he took in the work for the first time, “I dunno Sara, I’m proud, but it just looks like a bunch of pictures to me.” At times I’ve felt the same way.
Like all storytellers, I have made some editorial/artistic decisions, which deserve to be mentioned. I have chosen black and white, with a (often harsh) flash. This style both allowed me to capture more candid moments while set at a fairly high aperture with a 4x5 camera, as well as provide the images with an air of documentation. It was also my hope that they reflect the sort of relationship I have with my dad, at times brutally honest, even if it is always loving. I do not claim that these photographs tell a complete linear story. There is no beginning, middle or end. There are chronological gaps, content missing, etc. There are pictures I planned but never got around to taking. The goal of this project was less to tell one specific story, than it was to tell a more general narrative that I know countless of people have experienced. When I began to talk to some friends towards the beginning of this project, many expressed excitement over the idea because they too had a parent whose life was reflected in aspects of the life of my dad. So feel free to fill in the blanks, within reason. Like choose your adventure. I always liked those.