On Father's Day, Tracing The Expanding Definition Of Fatherhood : The Picture Show After his son's birth, Dirk Anschütz photographed fathers and sons for six years. "There's a lot of change going on right now regarding what fatherhood means, what masculinity means," he says.
NPR logo Tracing The Expanding Definition Of Fatherhood

Tracing The Expanding Definition Of Fatherhood

Yansen is a hip-hop dancer and actor in Bay Shore, N.Y. His siblings and his father, Hector, all worked in financial institutions. Yansen decided to go against the grain. Father and son both agree, though, that Yansen is pretty good at what he does. Dirk Anschütz hide caption

toggle caption
Dirk Anschütz

Yansen is a hip-hop dancer and actor in Bay Shore, N.Y. His siblings and his father, Hector, all worked in financial institutions. Yansen decided to go against the grain. Father and son both agree, though, that Yansen is pretty good at what he does.

Dirk Anschütz

In 2012, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based photographer Dirk Anschütz became a father. The shift in his life was enormous.

Anschütz was raised by a single mother. "I had never met my father, which was never a big deal," he says. But after his son Ray's birth, Anschütz says he didn't have a male parenting role model.

This led to a curiosity about how other dads were raising their kids; curiosity that resulted in a six-year portrait project called Fathers and Sons.

Isma is a musician from Equatorial Guinea and moved with his wife to Washington, D.C., where they had a son named Matteo. It wasn't easy for Isma to move to a new country, learn a new language and be a new dad all at the same time. Dirk Anschütz hide caption

toggle caption
Dirk Anschütz

Isma is a musician from Equatorial Guinea and moved with his wife to Washington, D.C., where they had a son named Matteo. It wasn't easy for Isma to move to a new country, learn a new language and be a new dad all at the same time.

Dirk Anschütz

Anschütz began the project by photographing family members and close friends. It was important to Anschütz to show the personal relationships between the fathers and sons. As a result, he decided to only use first names. He intended for the project to be more art than journalism.

The first photo he made, and his favorite of the project, was of his girlfriend's brother-in-law and his son at a family reunion. The father, Matt, is an actor, and his son, Caleb, has a developmental disability. They connect through Matt's acting and movement exercises. As Caleb grew up in Annandale, Minn., and as they connected more, Matt started a nonprofit that provides art and acting education for people with developmental and cognitive disabilities.

The impact the son had on the father's life, and vice versa, was immediately striking to Anschütz. "I realized there was a lot of meat in that one picture," he says. "Just a lot of stuff you can think about."

Caleb has a developmental disability and is largely nonverbal. When Matt, an actor in Annandale, Minn., did his movement and acting exercises, he noticed that Caleb reacted strongly to them. They started doing them together, opening up a new way for father and son to communicate. Dirk Anschütz hide caption

toggle caption
Dirk Anschütz

Caleb has a developmental disability and is largely nonverbal. When Matt, an actor in Annandale, Minn., did his movement and acting exercises, he noticed that Caleb reacted strongly to them. They started doing them together, opening up a new way for father and son to communicate.

Dirk Anschütz

Over the next six years, the project took Anschütz all over the United States. As he traveled, he sought out pairs of fathers and sons that expanded the idea of what the relationship can look like. "The project really got me looking at a lot of different aspects of society," he says. "There's a lot of change going on right now regarding what fatherhood means, what masculinity means."

Anschütz's portraits, taken together, help personify those expanding ideas of masculinity and fatherhood. On the more stereotypically masculine end of the spectrum, he photographed a professional wrestler wrestling with his son, to exemplify wrestling as a common father-son interaction. On the other end, he photographed a pair in which the father transitioned from male to female at 61 years old, to show how the relationship can still endure.

Left: Austin was a New Jersey state champion in wrestling and is now a wrestling coach and gym owner. He started coaching his son John-Michael when John-Michael was 3 years old. Right: Paula transitioned from male to female at 61. She is a pastor in Colorado, and her son Jonathan leads a church in Brooklyn. Jonathan wrote a book about Paula's transition. Dirk Anschütz hide caption

toggle caption
Dirk Anschütz

Left: Austin was a New Jersey state champion in wrestling and is now a wrestling coach and gym owner. He started coaching his son John-Michael when John-Michael was 3 years old. Right: Paula transitioned from male to female at 61. She is a pastor in Colorado, and her son Jonathan leads a church in Brooklyn. Jonathan wrote a book about Paula's transition.

Dirk Anschütz

He photographed a father changing his infant son's diaper. "Now that's really not a big deal," Anschütz says. "Every dad I know does that. But when I think back to my childhood, very few dads would change their kids' diapers. And if they did, they probably wouldn't have allowed a photographer in the room."

Mike is the son of an American mom and an Italian dad and grew up in a little southern Italian town. He took a month of parental leave to take care of his newborn son Elliot in Brooklyn. Dirk Anschütz hide caption

toggle caption
Dirk Anschütz

Mike is the son of an American mom and an Italian dad and grew up in a little southern Italian town. He took a month of parental leave to take care of his newborn son Elliot in Brooklyn.

Dirk Anschütz

Anschütz makes the images with a digital medium-format camera that contains a larger-than-normal image sensor. He lights them with natural light and auxiliary strobe lights. "I don't want to be a fly on the wall," he says. "It should be obvious that everybody works together on one of these portraits."

Some of the portraits are more formal, while others feature tender moments between the two subjects. "If you just have your equipment set up for a while, after a while the pair will just do their thing even with you and the camera present," he says.

Corey is a lifelong New Yorker. He is an avid painter who worked as a prison guard and is now a school bus driver. When Isaiah was 13, he was mugged at gunpoint in Brooklyn. After that, his parents decided to move the family to the suburbs on Long Island. Isaiah liked his new high school and became an integral part of the football team before going to college. Dirk Anschütz hide caption

toggle caption
Dirk Anschütz

Corey is a lifelong New Yorker. He is an avid painter who worked as a prison guard and is now a school bus driver. When Isaiah was 13, he was mugged at gunpoint in Brooklyn. After that, his parents decided to move the family to the suburbs on Long Island. Isaiah liked his new high school and became an integral part of the football team before going to college.

Dirk Anschütz

John designs bars and restaurants and has a big workshop. When Roman has days off from school, he often joins his dad at the shop. They live in Brooklyn. Dirk Anschütz hide caption

toggle caption
Dirk Anschütz

John designs bars and restaurants and has a big workshop. When Roman has days off from school, he often joins his dad at the shop. They live in Brooklyn.

Dirk Anschütz

In addition to producing a compelling body of work that helps showcase the expanding bounds of what fatherhood can look like, Anschütz says Fathers and Sons made him a more understanding dad. He describes his parenting style as "relaxed." He discovered that what constitutes good fatherhood can vary widely.

"How people grow up or raise their kids is often a consequence of their socioeconomic background or their cultural background," he says. "Some kids will have advantages that aren't there for kids that grew up under different circumstances."

George works in the financial sector and lives with his two kids in Brooklyn. His wife, Lyle's mom, died suddenly when Lyle was 5. George had to guide his kids through the tragedy while dealing with his own grief. Dirk Anschütz hide caption

toggle caption
Dirk Anschütz

George works in the financial sector and lives with his two kids in Brooklyn. His wife, Lyle's mom, died suddenly when Lyle was 5. George had to guide his kids through the tragedy while dealing with his own grief.

Dirk Anschütz

Andrew and his wife work on film and TV productions in Brooklyn. Because they have extremely long workdays, it's hard for them to be home at the same time. As such, Andrew spends a lot of time alone with Homer. Dirk Anschütz hide caption

toggle caption
Dirk Anschütz

Andrew and his wife work on film and TV productions in Brooklyn. Because they have extremely long workdays, it's hard for them to be home at the same time. As such, Andrew spends a lot of time alone with Homer.

Dirk Anschütz

Anschütz is now taking his fatherhood in stride, but it wasn't always that way. "When I was a young man, I didn't want to have kids, and later on I was ambivalent about it. But being a dad has really been a lot of fun," he says. "I hope I don't jinx it; it's been such a great ride so far."

Trovonnie works as an aide at a preschool in Brooklyn. Josiah attends the same preschool, which is a substantial commute from his mom's house. Dirk Anschütz hide caption

toggle caption
Dirk Anschütz

Trovonnie works as an aide at a preschool in Brooklyn. Josiah attends the same preschool, which is a substantial commute from his mom's house.

Dirk Anschütz

Dirk Anschütz is a freelance photographer based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Instagram @dirkanschutz.

Cameron Pollack is a freelance photographer based in Boston. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter: @kcalloP.