Troy Colby – The Fragility of Fatherhood

Review by Douglas Stockdale ·

Just like with marriage, our kids do not arrive with user’s manual. It also seems, from my own experience, that the older our children become, the more out of (our) control that they seem to evolve. Which in turn, can be crazy making for both the parents as well as the children, especially if one is really concerned about the future welfare and development of their children.

In a sense, our own parents and grandparents in the past were the ‘user manual’ for the new parents and their children. The previous generation may not always be perfect regarding the advice being handed down, potential with some ‘interesting’ ideas but these could still help provide a discussion about the family’s current events. Thus, with each move we make with our young families, the more unmoored we have become, in which telephones, texts and social media may not be the most effective or timely as family situations unfold.

Shortly after Troy Colby’s photobook The Fragility of Fatherhood arrived, a European gallerist remarked to me about what she thought was American photographer’s penchant for photographing their children. She speculated that as a European there is more of a need for a hidden private life versus the Americans who seem to move so often, thus needing to define who their family is. Her comments resonated with Colby’s body of work; who is his family, what is occurring as the toddlers have now grown to young adults, what course has he and his wife set their growing family on, what does it mean to a father and what exactly is fatherhood? Questions that Colby does not seem to try to directly answer.

Colby’s photographs are all rendered in black and white, a classic photo-documentary style that is both graphic and more abstract (compared to color). His family portraits are tightly framed with minimal amount of environmental context; each of the portraits reveal someone in thought and Colby has avoided the ‘smiley’ faces. The combination of pensive gazes revealed in a series of low key black and white photographs creates a darker undertone to his narrative. There are some joyful appearing moments that children seem to create on their own volition, but these are interspersed with a lot of other moments when the entire family appears to be laying down, napping or resting, again, creating a sense of malaise. Something seems out of sorts, as there is a general lack of energy.

The tight perfect binding of this photobook seems to resonate with Colby’s body of work; the book does stay open on its own and requires some effort to read and follow his narrative. As though we should not be interacting with his photographs at all and like the Europeans more of a need for a hidden private life.


Douglas Stockdale is a visual artist and Senior Editor / founder, PhotoBook Journal


 The Fragility of Fatherhood, Troy Colby

Photographer: Troy Colby, born in Kansas and resides Topeka, Kansas

Publisher: Too Tired Press, Woodstock, Vermont, copyright 2022

Essay: Afterword by Troy Colby

Text: English

Stiff covers, perfect bound, 80 pages 150 copies.


Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s). All images, texts, and designs are copyright of the authors and publishers.

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