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Dad Time – A Photography Project

My exploration of fatherhood through portrait, reportage and conceptual imagery – is something I have been building upon for the past couple of years. The project is both a personal journey and a professional test kitchen. The problem solving skills required to work on this long-term project provide new ideas for ways of producing client work and approaching new creative challenges.

I am a stereotype of my generation: a career-driven woman who delayed motherhood until it seemed like she might be able to take a couple weeks of maternity leave without breaking the bank or saying no to some sort of career-changing opportunity. Little did I know that once I made it through the initial shock of adding motherhood to my already full plate, parenting was an unexpected joy that has become a huge source of creative inspiration.


A large part of that inspiration comes from observing the culture of parenting that surrounds me. Moms feel so much pressure to conform to a specific ideology. How long are you breast feeding? Did you have a natural birth? Are you co-sleeping, attachment parenting, making your own organic baby food? Do you plan on home schooling? Are you going to quit your job?

And yet, no one asks these questions of dads.

When we had our second son, and my husband moved more time away from helping run our business and towards caring for our two young children, I started to notice the differences between how moms and dads parent. I learned to understand and appreciate these differences. I was surrounded by boys – I was surrounded by cars, trucks and diggers. My sons did not go on playdates. They started listening to Motörhead.  

On one hand, I like to observe the way men parent: unconcerned with neatly organizing toys or keeping tiny hands out of the guacamole; unwilling to sacrifice a basketball game with his friends; unaffected by inspirational Instagram feeds or Pinterest boards. And on the other hand, I identify with the more traditionally male role as the primary earner for the family.


One image from the Dad Time series, for example, is of a dad juggling two toddlers at his desk – something I often do with my 3 and 4-year-olds in my home office when they are missing me throughout the day. As much as the project is inspiration from dads themselves, I consider many of the scenes to be self-portraiture with the dads as stand-ins for me.

Professionally, this project has been an incredible journey. My clients often want images that feel completely un-posed.  Simultaneously, there is a need to control every aspect of the production – from casting to wardrobe, location to gesture. The more I shoot for myself, the better examples I have of what kind of images I want to make. This gives me the strength to push for my preferred production style, or for the location or talent that I know will provide the best possible outcomes for my clients. That is often the biggest challenge for my commercial shoots – not being able to influence production while trying to deliver my style of imagery. Each personal shoot improves my ability to explain exactly how my photographs are made to a potential client, providing examples of specific lighting and directing approaches that will ultimately help us achieve what they need for their particular brand and story.

Dads-Nickell_0162aThrough the Dad Time project, I have also gained a tremendous amount of experience working with kids of all ages. Recently, for example, we walked into a shoot where, within minutes of our arrival, the kids talked about how bored they were. We moved as quickly as we could to light an enormous space, trying to get the shoot done before the kids lost focus entirely. These experiences help me explain the need for extra pre-light time, child wranglers, or particular schedule approaches when clients suggest things that simply will not work well with a specific age group. This project is also just great critical thinking practice: I’m constantly thinking on my feet, and any time spent observing the interaction between parent and child – rather than between models – helps me direct better down the road and know what to be looking for.


To view more of Callie’s work head over to her site, or give her a follow on Instagram.

Callie Lipkin

Chicago based, award-winning photographer, Callie Lipkin is a storyteller, and a problem solver. A look through her lens reveals simple, organic moments between photographer and subject. Before starting as an undergrad at Northwestern University, Callie’s eyes were opened during a trip she took to China, and she shifted her focus from a career in engineering to one in photography. After graduation Callie started her career in photojournalism, working for several newspapers, including The Beacon-News in Aurora, and the prestigious Boston Globe, where she worked side by side with Picture of the Year and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographers. Recently Callie’s work for the 2014 Whirlpool campaign was featured in Lürzer’s Archive; and in 2009 she won first place for her photography series Everyday Burlesque in the 6th Annual Altpick Awards.

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