Just before the photographer Ollie Adegboye was about to become a father, he met up with a group of old friends. Some were already fathers, while some, like Ollie, were expecting. Together, they spoke about the experience of fatherhood; the ups, the downs and what to expect. “It was the first time I’d heard a group of young Black men speaking so candidly and openly about their hopes and dreams alongside the fears they had about themselves as fathers,” Ollie says. After experiencing such a profound conversation, Ollie knew he wanted them to continue, and so he set himself on instigating them in the way he knew best – by photographing his friends and their children.
Soon after starting the project, Ollie learnt that there was one main dictating factor of the shoots – the kids. With many of them being so young, time was often limited, and curveballs – like a few bouts of chickenpox – were many. “Any grand ideas I may have had for the portraits went out of the window, and I often had to take a pared back approach, opting for a simple direction of shooting the dads at home or somewhere nearby,” says Ollie. One of the biggest priorities for Ollie was that everyone felt relaxed – and that this translated in the images – so he gave no direction on styling, instead letting the fathers dress “in a way that they felt represented”. This sense of ease is palpable throughout the series, with the images feeling like tender moments – hugs, play (and the odd nap) – between father and child, rather than pre-planned portraits.
The project had its desired effect, and through its creation Ollie learnt a great deal about the experience of fatherhood, the universal aspects, and many ways it differs for each individual. “A year into the project, I was about 25 portraits deep and at this point it had become apparent that whilst their views on things like the “correct” way to parent or the best schools in the area varied wildly, their children as their refuge, their safe space, where they don't have to present as anyone but “Dad” was consistent,” Ollie says. “After a day or week of dealing with the world, they could just be. Authentic and unapologetic.”
Despite this focus on narrative, when it came to the series photobook Ollie wanted the images to speak for themselves, and the only text that features is the books foreword. This decision, Ollie says, is so people can “feel (or not feel) whatever they want”. Because of the subject matter, since its reception certain conversations have recurred, “dispelling the stereotype of absent Black fathers” being one. “A few people who came to the exhibition loved that it was an opportunity to see Black men at peace, enjoying their families and looking good, something that you don’t get to see in the media very often.” Ollie tells us. “While none of this was intended, it’s never a bad thing to produce a body of work that supports a positive narrative.”
Reflecting on the series as a whole, there’s not one image that stands out for Ollie; their resonance is equal and on the whole, it’s the experience that has defined the project for the photographer. “How often do you get to spend an hour with a father and their child / children in their own space and just observe their relationship?” he says. “Honestly, the entire process was transformational and I have strong memories attached to each and every image.” Though, Ollie does have something of a soft spot for his self-portrait – the last photograph he took. While never having been one to love being the subject, the image came out exactly as he hoped – capturing the essence of his son’s character. Tender, warm and personal to its core, Bàbá, Father shows portrait photography at its very best.
The Bàbá, Father photobook is now available to purchase here.
GalleryOllie Adegboye: Bàbá, Father (Copyright © Ollie Adegboye, 2023)
Ollie Adegboye: Bàbá, Father (Copyright © Ollie Adegboye, 2023)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.