When Bart Heynen showed up at the house of a family in Brooklyn that he wanted to photograph in 2015, his motifs were not quite finished. One father was busy ironing something and the other was cleaning the house, newborn son in his arms.
The scene struck Mr. Heynen, himself a father of two sons, as deeply normal. “They looked like any other parent who loves their children,” he said.
The family was the first of many that Mr. Heynen planned to take photos for a photo book with gay fathers and their children. His original idea was for each family to pose on the corner of their block to illustrate this: “See? We exist all over town, ”he said. But after filming in Brooklyn, he changed the concept to focus on dads in the middle of their daily reality. He spent the next four years with 40 families across the country and gathered their quiet moments in his recently published book, Dads.
American culture has not been particularly hungry for images of gay fatherhood, especially in recent years. Celebrities like Anderson Cooper helped normalize the idea of gay men raising children, and it no longer feels revealing to see them on TV like it did at the 2009 premiere of Modern Family Case was.
More rarely, said Heynen, are pictures of gay fathers who are not ready for Instagram – like two men combing their daughters’ hair or throwing a soccer ball in the front yard. Capturing those honest, personal moments wasn’t always easy. His subjects often wanted to present their families as traditionally as possible, he said, in their best clothes and smiling at the camera. An understandable impulse that he traces back to the wish of gay parents to feel “normal” after their abilities as parents have been questioned again and again.
Eventually the families relaxed so he could capture their intimate moments. In one, two shirtless dads had skin-to-skin contact with their baby for hours. In another, a gray-haired couple happily watches as their son kisses his fiancée. The pictures are not conspicuous, said Heynen, but celebrate the everyday life of gay fathers.