Zun Lee, who was raised in a Korean family in Germany, didn't find out that his biological father was black until 2004. For the "street photographer," who had already become close to the African-American families stationed at nearby bases at Frankfurt, "learning the news was in a weird sense a homecoming," he told the New York Times.
Given his own unusual background, it's no surprise that his goal for his newest installation, "Father Figure," is to provide a nuanced look at black dads that includes the interaction between children and parents that gets lost in the shuffle of media caricatures.
"On either side it's stereotypical," Mr. Lee said. "On one side it's the Jerry Springer, Maury Povich stuff about irresponsible dads who run away from their baby mama and don't take responsibility. On the other hand of the discourse, you have Dr. Cliff Huxtable, the über-dad. In the media, there is very little in the middle, of the everyday dad who may not be perfect, he may be struggling, but he's present in their child's life."
"Being in the presence of these dads was difficult for me," he said. "They were interacting with their kids, which is something I didn't have growing up. I had a dad growing up, but he wasn't a model dad. For me, seeing things I never had as a child was hard to witness, never mind having to shoot in those circumstances."
He has continued to work with three or four families, particularly one in the Bronx that has welcomed him warmly. He has also reached out to sociologists and other researchers who have done work on African-American families and fathers. One of them, LaRon Nelson, a faculty member and assistant dean for Global and Community Affairs at the University of South Florida, praised the project.
Read more and check out a gallery of Lee's photos at the New York Times.