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Jerell Willis and son Fidel

Jerell Willis carries his son Fidel across the Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn, N.Y., 2012. (Photograph © Zun Lee)

'Father Figure: Exploring Alternate Notions of Black Fatherhood'

Since 2011, Zun Lee has embedded himself in the lives of African-American families, many of them from the Bronx and Harlem, photographing the intimate details of their everyday lives. Father Figure: Exploring Alternate Notions of Black Fatherhood, an exhibition at the Bronx Documentary Center, brings into focus the narratives of real dads as caretakers, interrogating and dispelling stereotypes of black masculinity and absent fathers.

Through intimate black-and-white photographs, Lee offers a view into the daily lives of black men with whom he has worked closely — men who are parenting in sometimes difficult social, economic and personal circumstances. Lee brings into focus what stereotypes of the absent father have distorted: stories by those who are involved in their children’s lives.  These men may not be perfect — no father is — but their parental presence firmly rejects familiar media caricatures.

Father Figure exposes the viewer to aspects of black masculinity that many have not seen, or perhaps do not want to see. It shows these men not as victims of their circumstances, but as empowered agents in their own lives, as capable parents, and above all as loving, wholesome human beings.

Lee is an award-winning Canadian photographer, physician and educator. He was born and raised in Germany and has also lived in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Chicago. He currently resides in Toronto.

Lee’s projects focus on the importance of visualizing quotidian black life and have been widely published and exhibited in North America and Europe. He has spoken publicly at the Portland Art Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the University of Chicago, Columbia University, the Annenberg Space for Photography, the International Center of Photography, the New School and Duke University, as well as many community-based organizations in the U.S. and Canada.

Selected honors and awards include: Art Gallery of Ontario Artist in Residence (2017), Canada Arts Council Grant (2017), Magnum Foundation Fellow (2015), PDN Photo Annual Winner (2015), LOOK3 Educator (2015), Paris Photo/Aperture Photobook Awards Shortlist (2014) and PDN’s 30 New and Emerging Photographers to Watch (2014). (BDC)

Father Figure by Zun Lee is on view through March 31 at the Bronx Documentary Center. Its opening reception is Feb. 3 from 6 to 9 p.m.

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