18 Photographers Share Portraits of Their Dads, Just the Way They Are

If you’re of the age to shell out well over your allowance’s worth for the perfect present for your dad, you’re no doubt also well aware that—commercialization be damned—Father’s Day can be much more about emotions than gifts. (Especially if they’re the type that aren’t readily communicated via quick holiday cards.) These days, for example, Hannah Kozak’s appreciation of her father is also a reflection on his past as a Holocaust survivor, whereas Joshua Schaedel’s expression of love for his comes along with recognizing that they actually haven’t spoken in years. Each are just two photographers that attempted to capture what Father’s Day means to them in a single image for W, altogether illustrating the range of the relationships celebrated every June. Some of the images stem from a prolonged process; Sean Lee has been taking photos of the former “mythical creature” that is his father ever since he realized its rare capacity to “bridge the distance” between them. On the other hand, some of them have only adopted meaning in recent years, like a snapshot that Doug DuBois took in 1984, unintentionally capturing some of the exact same wrinkles that he’d find on his own face 25 years later. Take a look at their portraits and more, here.

Sean Lee

The Kiss (2016). Photograph by Sean Lee.

“I did not see much of my father growing up. He was part of the local triads and that was how he made his living. I saw him almost as a mystical character when I was young and admired him for being tough and feared. Now I have grown up, and he has grown old. Somewhere along the line, I became a photographer. Making pictures of my father is the only way I have to bridge the distance between us.” – Sean Lee

Geordie Wood
Geordie Wood

Dad with Volcanic Ash (2010). Photograph by Geordie Wood.

“I made this photograph of my father’s hands in Iceland while the volcano Eyjafjallajökull was actively erupting above us. My dad has a deep and abiding connection to the natural world; it’s really a spiritual relationship, and about much more then just walks in the woods. I admire him for that and have tried to pass on that sentiment to my own son. The connection of ash to cycles in nature and family seems a fittingly poetic portrayal of my father.” – Geordie Wood

Ryan Lowry
Photograph by Ryan Lowry.

Mom Feeding Dad Grapes, (2017). Photograph by Ryan Lowry.

“I’ve always appreciated the way my parents were able to balance each other out—my mother being the wild one, and my father more quiet and collected, yet always up for anything, I suppose that’s what I was going for with this image.” – Ryan Lowry

Elinor Carucci

Father with White Underwear (1988). Photograph by Elinor Carucci.

“I was always a daddy’s girl. As a little girl, there was no one I loved more than my father, and his love was what made me feel safe in this world; unconditional, accepting, warm. Always forgiving, always there. Even though my father came from a simple, low-income family, he managed to raise me with qualities he never received from his own parents, and it wasn’t until I was older that I realized how much of a long way he had to come in order to be the father that he was to me. For years, he was the man I loved more than anything. Some of who he was set the characteristics I will look for in men later in my life—when I fall for guys, when I get married myself. This photograph was another moment, this one with my camera, when I let myself see him as a man. Not just my father, but a man.” – Elinor Carucci


Trophy Dad (2015). Photograph by Res.

Thicker than Water is a project that explores Res’ relationship with their father, who has undergone an alienating transition due to illness and aging, resulting in unemployment and isolation. Presenting a nuanced portrait of the American family, Thicker Than Water offers a dedicated exploration of masculinity following the trajectory of the ‘American Working Man’ to locate a future for a group that is losing its footing from the top of the social hierarchy.” – Res

Joshua Schaedel
© josh schaedel 2011

Dad Looking Up At Me (2010). Photograph by Joshua Schaedel.

“Father’s Day is a tough one for me because I can’t not think about him. It’s now been nearly five years since we last spoke, and seven since he moved to Baltimore to work with people at Johns Hopkins to get help with his depression. Some days I don’t think about him at all, and others, he’s in my head all day. I guess that’s how a lot of people might feel about their fathers when this holiday rolls around once a year, so maybe this feeling is normal. It’s comforting to know that there is a logical reason I do things, but like all children, I have to strive to do better and be better. I have to work harder. James Schaedel is my father, and even after everything we have been through, and despite the space and time between us, I still love him. Wherever you are, Dad, I love you. Happy Father’s Day.” – Joshua Schaedel

Mitch Epstein
Courtesy of Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York

Dad, Hampton Ponds III (2002). Photograph by Mitch Epstein.

“As Dad approaches the water for a swim, he is shaky. He says the bottoms of his feet are tender, and it’s hard for him to walk on the rocky shore. I give him my flip flops and a hand, and he takes it, which is unlike him. I try to help him into the water, but it’s not easy. He has trouble maintaining his balance. I want to be photographing him as he enters the lake, but that’s not possible. As we get waist-deep, I let go. I pick up my hand camera and photograph him as he slips into the inky water. Dad’s difficulty entering the water disturbs me. I felt the gravity of his body weight for the first time while trying to help him. As he floats alone, I feel he is giving in to the day, to being in the water and all that it once held for him in his past, and to being together.” – Mitch Epstein, Family Business, Steidl (2003).

Elliott Jerome Brown Jr.

She Has Yet To Make It Right (2018). Photograph by Elliott Jerome Brown Jr.

“Vindictiveness weighs heavy at my pocket and stretches the fabric toward my knees. Forgive me, I’m always making up for time lost on my accord or my behalf.” – Elliott Jerome Brown Jr.

Hannah Kozak
© Hannah Kozak

My Father on His 84th Birthday (2009). Photograph by Hannah Kozak.

“My father, a survivor of eight Nazi forced labor camps, was never a victim. His unresolved grief and sadness became a catalyst for ambition and he taught me how to work hard, stand on my own two feet, and not go outside with wet hair. He gave me an unfaltering belief in myself, teaching me not to give up and to never give up hope. I was able to turn my fears into a 25-year career as a stuntwoman. He walked with death and lived so I could give testimony and tell his story.” – Hannah Kozak

Amanda Tetrault

Fallen Angel Phil, (2015). Photograph by Amanda Tetrault.

“I took this when Phil was showing me some of his favourite places to sleep when living on the street. He favours parks and being near trees. I thought he looked both vulnerable and protected by the wings the shadows gave him. Diagnosed at 21, Phil has survived 43 years of schizophrenia, and the hardships of living on and off the streets that have followed. For me, Father’s Day is loaded with the pain of knowing that someone I love may need help, and the sadness of never having known what being fathered feels like. I do thank Phil for the things I learn from our relationship and his illness, and acknowledge how hard Father’s Day is for those of us who have experienced trauma because of this relationship.” – Amanda Tetrault

Michael Marcelle

My Father’s Face (2015). Photograph by Michael Marcelle.

“My father has long been my muse, and the work we make together explores the strangeness of family and the uncanniness of the domestic. I’m interested in deconstructing the traditional family photography project, to invert it into something hallucinatory and alien. There are threads of horror and otherness throughout the photographs, but I think at their core, the pictures are also deeply intimate and loving—pictures of a father made by his son.” – Michael Marcelle

Lauren Withrow

Buck (Farmersville) (2012). Photograph by Lauren Withrow.

“I remember sitting with my grandpa and talking about my photography, my goals and ideas. He ignored everything I said, looked at me, and said very seriously, ‘You’re not a real photographer until you’ve shot for Playboy.’ Then he cracked a little smile. Since that day, Playboy has been a goal client, just for him.” – Lauren Withrow

Doug DuBois

My Father, Packs His Clothes (1984). Photograph by Doug DuBois.

“My father and I share certain wrinkles. Genetics govern their imprint, but their presence delineates our age and experience. Twenty-five years ago, on a trip long since forgotten, my father and I shared a hotel room. In the morning, I photographed him packing his suits. Looking at the print now, I recognize three creases that line his neck and realize I am fast approaching his age at the time of the photograph.The details of his flesh meant nothing to me then. I was interested in the play of morning sunlight against the bed and the wall. The correspondence between the three dots of reflected light and, if you look closely, the three water spots on my father’s shirtsleeve is one of those lucky accidents of photography that reveal themselves only later, like a clue embedded in a novel, or, in this particular instance, an ellipsis marking time between that morning and now, his body and mine.” – Doug DuBois

Tim Schutsky

Dad in Garage (PA), (2017). Photograph by Tim Schutsky.

“I’ve spent a great deal of time in a garage with my dad. My grandfather opened a repair shop for forklifts in Philadelphia in the 1960s, which my father eventually took over. I worked there as a teenager with them and my brother during summers off school. The men in my family find pleasure in work. At home, my dad always has multiple projects happening in the garage—rebuilding an old Chevy, repairing domestic things. There’s always work happening.” – Tim Schutsky

Micaiah Carter

Mr. Carter (2017). Photograph by Micaiah Carter.

“My father is a man of many talents—a painter, a solider, a teacher, a companion, a friend, a father. He has taught me how to be selfless and confident. This photo represents my father’s strength and the determination that has transformed into generational excellence.”- Micaiah Carter

Damien Maloney

Dad, Orange, 2015. Photograph by Damien Maloney

“Since my parents split up almost a decade ago, my dad has made a point for us to go on trips together every year as adults. This trip was part rescue mission to Texas to help a friend salvage his horse business. We drove from Arizona with Greg, my dad’s friend who is a horse trainer and auctioneer, and who spent the entire two days of driving auctioning off imaginary things. There was a cat who lived at the horse stables that came around that my dad really liked. I later learned after we left that he was mailing treats for Umberto the cat weekly.” – Damien Maloney

Marisa Chafetz

Dad at Home (2017). Photograph by Marisa Chafetz.

“This photo represents my dad’s essence perfectly; quiet, humble, kind, never asking for attention, but graceful nonetheless. I think of this as a sort of portrait of us, with my tiny reflection in the glass behind him.” – Marisa Chafetz

Jesse Dittmar

John Sr., 2014 / John Jr., 2007 (2014/2007). Photographs by Jesse Dittmar.

“My photo shoots are conversations. I can ask questions that don’t feel appropriate in day-to-day life. These images have stuck with me because they access the intimacy the photo shoot generated and contextualize other moments in my relationships with my grandfather and father.” – Jesse Dittmar