The big picture: a father tries to freeze time

Tim Adams
·2-min read

At the end of his book of images of his daughter, Pia, Christopher Anderson includes a short letter. “Dear Pia,” it begins, “the making of these photographs must seem as natural to you as butter and toast. I probably photographed you every day of your life that I have been with you. There are too many days when travel and work took me away. But, truth be told, we’ve had more conversations about brushing teeth than about creating photos.”

That naturalness was what made Anderson, a celebrated photographer of the frontlines of war and conflict zones in his earlier career, start making portraits of his children. There was no editorialising – that necessity for photojournalists to find a picture that gave an angle to a particular story – he could simply photograph exactly what interested him visually. Anderson’s first book in this mode came after his son Atlas was born in 2008; at the time it did not occur to him that those pictures would become part of his “work”. The more he looked, though, the more he sensed that everything he had done up to that point, on assignment for the Magnum agency in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, was a preparation for these personal stories.

Pia is a sequel to Son. It represents in some ways a retreat from a world of troubles into a different kind of pathos and poignancy, that which every father might feel watching his child grow, not wanting to lose a moment. In the course of the making of the book, Anderson, an American, and his family resettled in France, where he is now a naturalised citizen. His note to his daughter includes a simple declaration of intent and gratitude: “It’s only fair that I thank you for helping me stop time, for giving me these scraps of joy to store away for a day when I need them. Maybe they will help remind you, too. That it all happened, just like this. And here is the proof.”

Pia by Christopher Anderson is published by Stanley/Barker (£40)