Troy Colby doesn’t remember the day he made this photograph of his youngest child on the couch at home, but he thinks it must have been a weekend, as his kid fell asleep there, basking in the sunlight filtering in through the curtains. Maybe his son had a headache that day; he’s not sure. But even now, looking at the image makes him feel calm and peaceful.
That light–and that sense of peace–runs throughout the photographer’s book, The Fragility of Fatherhood, out now by Too Tired Press. You can find it in the crumpled sheets and closed eyes. But for every moment of solitude and stillness, it seems there’s another that captures the headlong pace of childhood. The book is about being a dad, but it could just as easily be about growing up.
Its pages are equally filled with the incessant moving of being a kid: the jumping on the bed, the running to the door. Every once in a while, one of the artist’s children’s faces will be just out of focus, as if caught in the corner of his eye while they’re rushing past in the hustle and bustle of everyday life at home. Sometimes, they’re hiding under the sheets or seen behind glass, close but somehow far away too.
For all that tenderness, the book also contains everything else that comes with true, enduring intimacy–including heartbreak, loneliness, and grief. Most of the work in the book was made before the pandemic hit and life was still “normal,” lending them an innocence that almost hurts. During the pandemic, Colby contended with the pain and restlessness of depression. It got worse as lockdowns continued. “We as a family unit also experienced a good amount of loss,” he tells me. “Three of those losses were miscarriages.”
Making pictures during the pandemic was difficult, but Colby has been picking up his camera a lot more these days. “We moved to a house out in the country, tucked up in the trees,” he says. He gets even more sunlight now, and he’s been able to pour himself into the manual labor and everyday chores that the house carries with it.
Parents regularly reach out to Colby to say they identify with his images. While some are dads, he says they’re mostly moms. Men, he explains, are taught to be “tough” and never show vulnerability, especially as it relates to the intense joys and hardships of being a dad. He’s hoping the photographs can help change that.
Today, Colby continues to document his family. But in many ways, they’re different pictures from the ones he made before. His family is growing and shifting, and the photographs are changing too. The book, then, represents just a single chapter in a story that’s still unfolding. On the day we talked, he said that the picture of his youngest on the couch was his favorite in the book at the moment. He also told me it changes every day, so today, it’s surely a different one.
Colby’s youngest, the one he found dozing on the couch on a weekend long ago, was eight when work in the book began. He’s a teenager now. The photographer says he’s at around the age where his kids have seemed less interested in making pictures with their dad. He respects that. “Now, he is fifteen and would not be caught without his shirt on,” Colby says. “It is a gentle memory of our little boy, who is growing up quickly.”
All images © Troy Colby