Dad's Photo Box

As a girl I discovered these photographs in a box. Because I was born when my dad was 45, he had lived an entire life before my sister and I came along. Dad on a cruise, Dad at a wedding, Dad in front of the White House. Dancing! Playing the guitar! Pointing a gun! Standing in front of house number 18. Holding them in my hands, I had access to the thing I had always wanted: his story. It was at that point that two things became inseparably wed in my psyche: the tactile, papery sensation of a photograph and the thrill of knowing another. 

He was born in 1940's Greece in a village that culturally operated more like 1840 according to my mom. My Dad is not macho per se but rather is full of machismo: excessive masculine pride. The male connection is the only legitimate connection. When I asked him a few years ago whether he would ever get married again he said, "Woman? Pain ass!" Pretty much sums it up.

His connection to my sister and I is strong and deep but non-verbal. He knows the concrete details of our lives (where we work, how much we make) and has faithfully, generously thrown money in our direction for our entire lives. He yell-demands that we take his entire plate if we ask for a bite of what he's eating and will. not. back. down. He came to my soccer games as a girl and stood with hands behind his back. We used to sit on his couch (my parents divorced when I was 2) and watch Greek soccer and Maury. He would take us to Sports World, an indoor arcade and fall asleep behind reading the Greek newspaper. We would wake him up by going on either side of his ears, counting to 3 and yelling, "DADDY!!!" and laugh until we cried. 

My attempts to know his history are always, without doubt, waved away in signature form: an angry face but a gentle heart. When my husband sits with him in the front seat, he gets stories about escapades in Australia, military formation, his first job. I am allowed to listen but asking questions of my own is a dead end. Sometimes I can catch him in a mood, usually when I lay out the photographs. He'll pick one up and point at it and with a twinkle in his eye say something like, "These ones! This was a good dog!" like I deeply disagree and he's convincing me. 

As a girl he took polaroids of Mia and I, usually standing in front of his car and always at a diner. I loved that camera and have been entranced with the instant medium since. But the attention! A picture of us, his girls! It made me feel cherished. I would hold my hands nervously and eak out a small smile while my sister would beam and dance and stick out her tongue and act like a monkey until I smiled a real smile. And he would pull the trigger. 

I have heard it said that talent is irrepressible; at the intersection of interest and ability is the thing you can't not do. I can't stop making photographs because of my interest in what they represent: identity, persona, family, place, time, style, nostalgia, memories made and intentionally remembered. The personal story. And because of my history with the photographs below. The feeling I got to know something about him, to see his joy, to be allowed in the narrative just a little bit.