At age forty, New-York based photographer Phillip Toledano (b. 1968, UK) became a father. Yet, rather than instantly falling in love with his daughter Loulou, Toledano spent the first eighteen months of her life confused and apprehensive about this creature that had changed his life, wondering if it had changed for the better. Documenting this early period of his daughter's life, The Reluctant Father shows Toledano's process of becoming a father and falling in love with his daughter.
The book is set up chronologically, the first image showing Toledano's very pregnant wife Carla. Following Loulou's birth, the baby becomes the main character in the photos with occasional images of the parents. A small-framed book, pairing images with punchy texts that speak of the difference between the father Toledano feels he is and the one he 'should be', The Reluctant Father is something a parent might recognise as a form of a children's book. Accompanying an image of a cool, head-on staring contest between new daughter and the photographer, Toledano explains his mind-set: “I had been downsized. Meet my replacement: the alien".
In the first half of the book, the distance between Toledano and his daughter is palpable. A deliberately unflattering image of Loulou with spit-up dripping from her mouth, taken from extremely close-up and with a striking wide angle, is accompanied by the text “everything Loulou did was utterly incomprehensible". Next to an image in which Loulou is wailing, similarly close-up to accentuate the toothless cavity of her open mouth and peeling skin that's gone purple from the strain of screaming - the same image that was chosen as the cover photo - we are told that, “handling a baby was like working with highly unstable explosives".
Yet, about half way through the book, the viewer can perceive Toledano's slow transformation, as his attitude toward Loulou begins to change. “Loulou's arrival really made me consider my own mortality", he admits. The photographs start to take a step back, showing Loulou in her environment, small and precious, and show her with more affection and understanding than the previous alien-esque portrayals. The chronological set-up serves as a guide through this transformation, “from bewildered observer, to eager participant. From photographer, to father."
Though titled The Reluctant Father, Toledano's wife Carla is important in the story as well. Part of the struggle that he expresses comes from the feeling that Loulou's arrival upset the “infinite space" they had as a couple. His wife was now a mother. A short text at the end of the book offers Carla the opportunity to have her say, as well. Taken all together, the images and text of The Reluctant Father offer a photographer's darkly comedic take on the common, yet incredibly complex world of a new parent.
The Reluctant Father is available for sale from Dewi Lewis.
Philip Toledano was previously featured in GUP #36, New Realities.