- Marvin Bynam, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with his wife and son. (© Lewis Kostiner) Marvin Bynam and his wife were law school students in Milwaukee. They lived in a small Milwaukee-style brick bungalow. The first floor was full of Prairie Style wood moldings and furniture. It was dark, and it would have been difficult to make a picture down there. Upstairs the light poured in, and, as we wandered around the rooms, next to the tub in the bathroom there was this beautiful and rich natural light. I had the family stand there. Marvin was a bit nervous and hadn't exactly figured out what I was doing and why I was there. I asked him to feed their baby while I made the picture. He was focused on me and at the same time concerned about his child. They were just such a complete couple. Lots of positive vibes and love infused the aura of the home. Marvin's wife hardly said a word, but in this image one can clearly see the depth of her wisdom. She was proud of Marvin and certain that their child would do well in life with their support.
- Wade Antener, of Colorado Springs, Colorado. (© Lewis Kostiner) Landing in Denver all I could think of was, Could I get a shot of one of the fathers with Pike's Peak in the background? This was paramount in my thoughts, since Colorado Springs was my destination. Pike's Peak brought me back to my childhood memories of the song "Sweet Betsy From Pike," a tune that has stayed with me. As kids we all wanted to be pioneers. So taking Wade Antener out to an open space by the highway with the mountain as a backdrop was an easy thing for me to arrange. Wade was all the more obliging, and his young teen-age daughter watched as I photographed her dad and she held on to their little black dog. Wade and I talked. I asked him what he did. He said whatever it takes. Two jobs now, many hours each day. His primary work was as a cook. He told me he worked to help his daughter so that one day she would fly over that mountain and have a wonderful life somewhere else. It's funny how positive one can be, like Wade, when the only real choice we have is to take care of our responsibilities as a parent, as a father. I understood what he meant when he said this to me. The shoot didn't last too long; Wade had to get back to work.
- Marvin Charles, of Seattle, Washington, with his wife, son, and father. (© Lewis Kostiner) Marvin Charles had a wonderful little office in downtown Seattle. He met us there, and we passed a good deal of time with Marvin traveling through the city. He spent most of his time keeping tabs on all the fathers and children in the National Fatherhood Initiative program whom he helped in his district. He picked them up and dropped them off and told them how to do this and how to do that. He never looked down on any of them, and his presence helped organize and prepare the children for their everyday journeys and, for the men, fatherhood. His clients struggled daily to survive, and he knew it. He did what he could to help them along. I photographed Marvin and his wife, son, and father right after the Presidential election of 2008. During Obama's run for office, I heard many times that he was a community organizer. In Chicago, where I am from, that usually means you help get the vote out. But Marvin was a real community organizer, in the true sense. He was not out there to get votes but to help kids and their dads. In his son's eyes, Marvin could easily have been elected Mayor of Seattle. Marvin carried his family's picture around with him all day long on his T-shirt, right in front of his heart.
- Joshua Chiles, of Des Moines, Iowa, with his daughters. (© Lewis Kostiner) As we stood out in the cold on the edge of Des Moines, I realized that this city is much smaller than I imagined. Joshua Chiles's girls took us to this spot for the photo and spent most of their time arranging the picture, so that, of course, their father would look nice in the scene. Having two daughters of my own, I completely understood what was going on. When I saw Joshua standing there in the frame, I realized that this person could be me, was me. His daughters were the exact age difference as mine. The younger was clearly the boss, and the older one offered, for her age, astute guidance. Joshua (as in my case, too) allowed them the joy of ordering him around. He was doing what a father should do, I thought; he was empowering his children at his expense. As we left, one of the girls rolled up her pant leg and showed me her artificial leg, which she put on display in a wholly uninhibited fashion. Joshua must have taught her to not be ashamed of this, and he taught her well.
- Jonathon Coughlin, of Manhattan, Kansas, with his family. (© Lewis Kostiner) It was hard to imagine that, just a few miles from this serene picnic pond next to the U.S. Army base at Fort Riley, troops were training rigorously before they were sent off to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were all members of the 1st Army Brigade. It was a strangely quiet and removed landscape. Jonathon Coughlin's family was what I always imagined the perfect American family to be: three boys and two girls and a loving mother. Jonathon had two families, however, though he was proud of each. Of course, his children were his family, and he lit up whenever they ran in and out of my picture field. He would kindly let them know that they needed to behave. The boys grew restless as the twin girls took it all in. Rarely would a photographer be given the gift of photographing a family such as this. You could tell that, with Jonathon and his wife in their lives, these kids were going to do well. Jonathon was also a father to the soldiers under his command. He lamented to me that, in many ways, they had to come first, sometimes above his own family. His job was to train his troops well and keep them alive. He was so proud of them. They, too, were his children. When I left Fort Riley, I was so proud to be an American and happy I had a chance to meet and photograph Jonathon and his family.
- Vincent Escobendo, of San Antonio, Texas, with his father. (© Lewis Kostiner) Vincente Escobendo was either divorced or separated, or maybe he and his wife never were really together. I could not figure it out. I met him at his father's house in an area near downtown San Antonio. The inside of the home smelled of burning candles and incense. There was a beautiful little memorial to his recently passed-away mother in the living room, on which his father kept vigil with brilliant candles. I never really knew if Vincente lived with his dad. My sense was he didn't. His daughter offered me some peaches that she just cut up and was carrying around in a white bowl. I knew I had to make a photo of her alone with her peaches. What photographer could resist that? I took Vincente's picture on the front porch. His father was sitting out there. I resorted to an old gimmick in portrait photography, as anyone can see. The sense that the viewer gets is that Vincente is the main feature and his dad is there to provide a connection. I soon realized that, what I had come upon, was the basic need of a father to have a father in his life. His daughter was part of the flow chart, from Vincente's dad to him, to his daughter. The one person who stabilized everything in the household was Vincente's father, yet I cut most of him away. I wonder why? Maybe this says something about my father and me.
- Steven Gonzales, of Sacramento, California, with his son. (© Lewis Kostiner) Steven Gonzales worked fourteen-hour days, seven days a week. He lived amongst the ghosts of bygone eras of vintage cars. Steven was the owner of the body shop that consumed him. He also was a father who taught his children by example. He told me that he regretted not being home for dinner every night, sometimes having to run out to give an estimate. He told me his heart hurt when he had to do this. Steven and his son took me on a tour of the body shop. We visited the paint shop, rich in the aroma of the freshly sprayed paint. His son was so proud of his dad. My presence with my camera made the young boy feel important. He knew his father to be a very special person and that I was sent there to take this famous person's picture. Steven and his son posed so proudly in front of that blue, beat-up Cadillac. I envied that boy and the life he had with his father. When I was done, they gave me a red T-shirt with the name "RED STAR California Original" on the front of it. I felt as special as the son when I left.
- Kevin Hall, of New Orleans, Louisiana, with his son and daughter. (© Lewis Kostiner) Kevin Hall lived with his mother in one of the lower wards of New Orleans. It was clear to me from the outset that Kevin was confused and torn with regard to his fathering role with these two children whom he literally carried about. He was built like a linebacker and lived in a neighborhood still decimated by Hurricane Katrina. He didn't talk much, and, when he did, it was just pleasantries of the day. His daughter was very curious, and his son seemed to question what I was doing and why I was there. It was as if Kevin knew that he had to be ready to have his picture taken with the kids but didn't understand why. There was an old man across the road who engaged me a bit after the shoot. He told me that Kevin tried hard to be there for his kids, but in the big picture he was really confused about what he was supposed to do to be a father. . . he was so young. His children seemed to be unaware of just how bad things were around them. I knew at one time this neighborhood must have been teeming with life, but the houses were few and far between now. It was tough enough to survive there anyway, and the last thing they needed was the big storm. Kevin's son seems to be saying, "What's going on?" and his daughter seems to say, "I understand."
- Michael Heniger, of Logan, Utah, with his family. (© Lewis Kostiner) I know this picture is just "Lewis, the Photographer" pretending to be Andrew Wyeth, and the little boy crawling away is really Christina in Wyeth's famous painting. Michael Heniger is very short. I imagine that one day everyone in his family will be taller. They were all getting to his height when I stopped in. Through all the chaos in Michael's house he remained calm. Each child had his or her own space and place to hang out. The household was nervous, to say the least. Amazingly, right behind the Henigers' backyard was this huge park within view of the ski resorts to the west. What a dream for me. Michael and his wife rounded up the kids and had them all ready for the pose. Except for the little one. He was drifting away and out of the frame. Michael apologized profusely for his son's lack of attention. I told him that his son knew the picture would be stronger if he was seen crawling away. Michael seems to tower over everyone. His pride at being chosen to participate in this project gave him pause, and Michael wanted me to know how important they all are to him, even when one is fleeing the scene.
- Shawn Kennedy, of Mobile, Alabama, with his daughter. (© Lewis Kostiner) Shawn Kennedy was an unexpected and pleasant surprise. He and his wife lived in a small and lovely vintage Southern-style bungalow in Mobile. I had spent a few days with his father-in-law, who was taking Milt Scott from the National Fatherhood Initiative and me around to meet the fathers in the area. Shawn had this beautiful baby girl in his arms, whom he carried with him all over the house. He even wore a shirt and tie for the picture. After I took the picture, I sat with him at his dining room table, and we talked. He said he was always open to learning how to become a better father. He told me had taken some classes with NFI and learned a great deal about small things about fatherhood he never thought about. He was very clear with me: his family's faith in the Lord gave him the strength to be a good and loving dad. I imagined he would be, always.
- Robert Mirabal, of Taos Pueblo, New Mexico. (© Lewis Kostiner) Robert Mirabal is not just known on the Taos Pueblo as a great musician. He has won a few Grammys, and his hand-made flutes are sought after worldwide. So, when I was brought onto the Taos Pueblo, north of town, to meet Robert and his family, I had no idea what I would encounter. There I found Robert with his three girls, each more precocious than the next. All three girls were beguiling, and, when they looked at you, they stared straight into your eyes, your soul. I was alone with the Mirabals on their land surrounded by the high Rocky Mountains of northern New Mexico. Robert's hands tell the story of his life, his family, and his music. His stories are full of age and wisdom and giving. Even if the culture he comes from is not ours, he will teach you how important it is to have a family and to give to a family. Robert, among the reeds on his land, and his daughters, standing next to the Rio Grande behind their house, tell all of us how rich the traditions are that Robert and his people have passed on to these girls and to all of us. So, while I was taking their pictures, they kept telling me, "You must be famous, you're famous, right?" I just stared at Robert and took it all in.
- Marshall Potter, of Alpharetta, Georgia, with his family. (© Lewis Kostiner) I visited Marshall Potter and his family in the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta, where they lived. All was new and full of trees and hills and kids. Although the housing crisis in Atlanta was just beginning, and Marshall and I discussed it a bit, his main focus was on his wife and children. This family was, in essence, my grandparents' vision of the "American Dream": a young, vibrant, and diverse family with two beautiful kids living in a new subdivision. They certainly seemed intent on always looking at things from a positive perspective. What struck me the most was their commitment to their love of God and country. In most of the images I made in their home, there was always an American flag in the picture, but not because I put them there. In this image. his beautiful wife, always on the lookout, stared out the window, ever vigilant. You could tell she knew her two boys just wanted to rough it up with their daddy, which they did. In this instance, I realized that the kids' mother made it so much easier for Marshall to be a complete father.
- Kevin Washington, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with his daughter. (© Lewis Kostiner) Milt Scott from National Fatherhood Initiative met me at the Pittsburgh airport on October 19, 2007. This was to be my first foray into the making of pictures for the Choosing Fatherhood project. We drove to Kevin Washington's apartment, just a few blocks from where the Pittsburgh Penguins play in the Igloo. We met Kevin in the hallway of his building, with his daughter by his side. He told me right away that he had spent years trying to obtain custody of his little girl from her mother, who had been in and out of jail for various offenses. His daughter was the pride of his life. The apartment where the two lived was an oasis of joy in this otherwise run-down section of Pittsburgh. Her room was lovely, with a well-organized desk, a big comfortable bed, a very nice dresser, lamps, and lots of toys. As we went out to make some pictures, she held on to him tightly, and he held on to her evem tighter. I found this abstract Expressionist graffiti on a door. I put them in front of it. Kevin, in true Pittsburgh fashion, had his Steelers stuff on, but you could tell his daughter was the only one he was rooting for.