Tau Battice is a photographer and lecturer at Guttman Community College, where he teaches English, among other subjects. His exhibition, “Who’s Your Daddy?” is a series of visual conversations between Black fathers and their sons. Below is a conversation between Guttman College and Professor Battice about “Who’s Your Daddy?”
What was the inspiration for “Who’s Your Daddy?”
The primary inspiration for “Who’s Your Daddy?” is that I was raised by my Black father, and to this day we have a beautiful, healthy relationship. From that personal reality, I sought to see healthy father-son relationships in the world, particularly given the prevailing narratives of Black father absenteeism; I wanted to reflect an alternative reality. A second inspiration is that I’ve always wanted to have a biological son myself, but I do not. I’ve always admired those relationships where fathers and sons get along particularly well. I often wonder how would I be molded differently as a man, as a human being, if I had a son.
Can you tell the Guttman community about where and how “Who’s Your Daddy?” was photographed?
“Who’s Your Daddy?” is photographed exclusively on a Harlem street corner. The grey wall is a simple, sterile palette to frame the collaborators I sought for this black-and-white series. Initially, I was shooting medium format, black-and-white film; this particular wall allowed the personalities and humanities of the participants to be brought forth organically. I go to that particular corner on mornings between 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., when the ambient light is just right, hoping to meet fathers with their sons. I shoot mostly Saturday and Sunday mornings. The weekend of Father’s Day was a particularly opportune time to collaborate. I also give free, large-scale prints to all participants in the project.
What ideas are you hoping to convey to your audience through this exhibition?
With “Who’s Your Daddy?”, I am exploring the transfer of healthy masculinity from Black fathers to their sons. Although I am interested in the father-son dynamic through the eyes of both parties, I interview the fathers specifically on how their sons have impacted their lives. My hope is to show that Black fathers participating in the lives of their children is not anomalous—their presence and support is a pretty regular occurrence. In fact, when my mother moved to America in the 1980s, I was raised by my father in St. Kitts-Nevis. This project, then, is a reflection of my personal reality, my normalcy. My hope is that the project shows that many Black fathers are just as human, just as emotional, just as invested in the holistic well-beings of their sons as fathers of any other race/ethnicity .
Can you talk about the response you have received to “Who’s Your Daddy?” thus far?
The response to the exhibition has been overwhelmingly encouraging. I’ve been working on the project since 2013, but only this year did I have my first show. The Nation did an Op/Arts feature of the project in 2020. Also, I was recently asked to submit five portraits for a bigger group show slated for Washington, D.C., this coming summer year. Later showings are scheduled for the Caribbean and then Africa. Closer to home, I’m honored and humbled with the individual responses to the work. In live spaces—spaces with human-to-human engagement—where I get to talk about the project, the sea of emotions lets me know that I’m preparing a book rich and deeply meaningful to others.
How do you see “Who’s Your Daddy?” relating to your role(s) at Guttman?
Well, on a lighter note, I learned a few years ago that a couple of students considered me almost like a father figure. I was both tickled and honored. But “Who’s Your Daddy?” makes me think seriously about what I can offer to young men, specifically to make them better men. The project is also important as a visual ethnography, encouraging students to work on projects that matter to them. As more art offerings come to a growing Guttman, the exhibition is a great template for how students can make meaningful projects of the worlds that exist right in their living rooms.
Do you see connections between photography and teaching?
The connections between photography and teaching are multiple. Some obvious parallels are, certainly, portraiture and the teaching of writing both center on individuals; they prioritize communication. To my mind, portraiture and teaching writing composition each requires deepening emotional intelligence and empathy, as well as understanding people’s situation so that you can better help them express themselves in the world.
I also believe that a set of basic techniques and the synthesis of different “bits” is necessary for compelling photography and writing. Ultimately, these bits, whether in the frame or on the written page, must complement each other well to tell a story effectively. And then of course the editing process begins—what do I put in a photograph? And even if I make a set of photographs, which ones will I publish? This editing relates to writing because you can write pages and pages and pages, but then you shape your writing in order to put only the best prose forward as your final product. Both practices entail knowing what to put in and what to leave out in order to have the most distilled product.
How have your students responded to your photography? How have your colleagues at Guttman responded?
On both student and faculty sides, the responses to my work have been positive. One former student, a mentee of mine from a few years ago, decided to take up photography seriously as a way of exploring his Mexican identity. So, I think that my photography has been inspirational for certain students. Many past students have attended my exhibitions, including the recent “Who’s Your Daddy?” Faculty members have been terrifically supportive. Indeed, some faculty have purchased my photo work as well as attending my exhibitions and photo talks.
When did you come to Guttman? What led you to Guttman?
I came to Guttman almost nine years ago, in Fall 2013. I was asked to guest-speak in an Arts in New York City course in Fall II 2012 on how photography can be used to better understand community. Even then, I loved the college’s innovation. Later that summer, I was contacted about an opportunity to teach at Guttman, and it was the right move for me.
What courses do you teach at Guttman?
I currently teach a range of English composition and writing courses. Over the years, I’ve taught eight courses at Guttman, ranging from Composition to the Arts in New York City to speech and communication.
What was it like to talk about “Who’s Your Daddy?” on a live morning TV show in St. Kitts?
Talking about “Who’s Your Daddy?” on Good Morning SKN was a thrill for me! It allowed me to connect with my home, where I have not been physically since 2013. The hosts relayed the sense that the hometown kid had done well during the broadcast! But more so, I was happy to know that my work is a source of inspiration and that it can be used as a model for aspiring photographers in the land of my birth.
Is there one photograph in “Who’s Your Daddy?” that particularly speaks to you?
I have many favorites within the series, but the portrait of “Bevone and Mahari” resonates with me particularly right now. Bevone’s embrace is gentle and protective as he stares calmly into the camera. Mahari, meanwhile, is safe and secure; his face is shielded, tucked into his father’s neck. Bevone’s facial and arm scars imply that he has encountered physical situations and that he will readily face slings and arrows to protect his son.
“Who’s Your Daddy?” was on view at Rio II Gallery, 583 Riverside Drive, 7th Floor, Harlem, New York City, from February 4th to 28th, 2022. A gallery yet to be named will host the exhibition in the future.