A photographer who asked fathers and their adult sons to link hands says the overwhelming response to the project has inspired him to take it international.
Scroll through the comments beneath Valery Poshtarov’s portraits of fathers and sons and the unusual emotional impact of the photos is plain to see.
“I’m simply crying,” one Instagram user says.
“I’m 72 years old and I’d kill to hold my father’s hand one more time,” wrote another.
Poshtarov has two sons of his own, aged 10 and 12, and says the project, named Father And Son, was inspired in part as he walked with his boys and realized that the effortless connection of hand-holding would soon end, at least for a time.
“From the moment we let go of our father’s hand until the moment we have the courage to take it again, decades pass,” he says.
The portraits are a combination of Poshtarov encountering fathers and sons by chance while traveling through his native Bulgaria, and photo sessions arranged in advance. The photographer often uses Facebook communities that catch his interest to reach out and ask if men would be willing to pose.
In the candid encounters, Poshtarov says his request for the men to hold hands comes as a shock, followed by awkwardness in which the son is usually the first to pull away from the long-forgotten act.
Poshtarov told RFE/RL he believes that reaching for one’s father’s hand is hard because “we, as men, are trying to show our own version of ourselves.”
“This is part of the game of growing up,” Poshtarov says. “To go out into the world and create our own identity. But then to return fully grown and recognize where we came from and who we are, as part of something bigger. This is a challenge for all of us, to reconcile these two aspects of being true to ourselves and being true to our community.”
In one of the photos, a security guard and his son in the eastern Bulgarian town of Bolyarovo grasp hands as if they are acquaintances who just concluded a business deal.
In April, Poshtarov’s series was named as a juror’s pick in the 2023 Lensculture Portrait Awards. The Bulgarian is now making plans to expand the theme internationally, with the country of Georgia set to be his first destination.
In the Caucasus, Poshtarov says, “I won’t have the advantage of knowing my country and my language. Now what I’m doing is working with freelancers in Georgia who are helping me gather different insights into the culture.”
The photographer uses a Fujifilm GFX100S for his portraits and only a 45mm, 2.8 lens. The Japanese camera features an unusually large sensor that provides a clarity not possible with more common, smaller sensor sizes.
“I just want to see where it goes,” Poshtarov says of his project. “The father is something, for me at least, that goes beyond the personal family circle. The father is a symbol of identity, and we are all striving somehow to construct this identity.
“When we are sharing values, we are somehow sharing an identify. And this is what holding hands is all about.”