10 yeas ago, Zun Lee, a photographer based out of Toronto, Canada, discovered that his father biological father was a black man whom his mother had a short relationship with. Lee was raised in Germany by his Korean mother, and an abusive man Lee assumed was his biological father. After learning about his true lineage, Lee wrote on his blog that he felt pain and rejection from the man he never met, and that pain reinforced the stereotype of the absent black father.
For a long time, holding on to the pain of that discovery was easier than dealing with it: As long as I was able to project my misgivings onto a negative stereotype, I could justify my anger and hurt. But I also realized that a huge part of me was curious to know more about my Black father, wanting to understand, get to a place of forgiveness. And that longing had informed my creative process all along. Without any information about my father’s identity or whereabouts, the only way to come to terms with my feelings was to examine them through photography.
Over the past two and a half years, I’ve developed relationships with several Black fathers from different walks of life and in different cities in the US and Canada. Every father I met spoke with his own voice. They expressed their swagger, life rhythm, and ways of relating with their kids and partners in very unique ways. And perhaps more importantly, as I observed these families, another truth manifested loud and clear: Contrary to the prevalent media caricature of Black men as aggressive, violent, and irresponsible, the fathers I met were loving, affectionate, and dependable. They readily shared their feelings and emotions, their concerns and fears. They were vulnerable enough to allow me to photograph them in moments of joy and times of frustration. They were by no means perfect, but unsung everyday heroes nonetheless, committed to being present one fatherly act at a time.
As a photographer, Lee uses his camera to capture every day images of life, and his latest project about black fathers will be released by Ceiba Foto this September. In an interview with Slate, Lee said he found the fathers profiled in the series through friends and social media. Sometimes he was introduced to fathers by their children, other times mothers who connected to his story invited him to photograph different fathers.
Lee stated that it was often hard for him to shoot the fathers interacting with their children, because it was something he didn’t have growing up.
“It can be confusing,” Lee said about seeing the relationships. “If it’s something I find puzzling, I pull out my camera and start shooting and try to make sense of it later.” Many of the fathers knew about Lee’s upbringing and even encouraged him along the way, and gave him a heads up if they thought they might be doing something with their kids that would be difficult for Lee to see.
Take a look at a few of the shots from Lee’s work:
To learn more about Zun Lee, visit his site: www.zunlee.com