Family of Men - Jay Sullivan
Family of Men

Photography/Mixed Media

Family of Men was conceived out of a need to reclaim the sense of family that I lost during childhood.  My father suffered from bipolar disease.  It fractured our family and it would never regain its sense of wholeness.  Family of Men is an attempt to learn about my family of the past to better understand my family of the present.

I grew up without much of a male presence in my life. My father, though living at home, was absent from my life. Both of my grandfathers died before I was born. My two uncles lived far away. I was surrounded by mostly women — a mother, two sisters, and two grandmothers.

There was little talk of the past generations of men in our family and what was said was usually not positive. The few family stories about my grandfathers had alcohol as the leading character.

Family of Men - Jay Sullivan

Recently, I decided I wanted to know these men more, to understand who they were and the role they played in my family and in my life. Through census data, I’ve been able to find out their occupations. Research of the times in which they lived has provided some context to their work, the places they lived and the challenges they endured.

Like my previous series about my father, I’ve started to photograph objects that I associated with these men. Mostly the objects relate to their occupations. I photograph the objects in styles that are reminiscent of the period. I use my hands in the place of my forefathers. Through this process, these forgotten men have become real people for whom I have real admiration.

Family of Men - Jay Sullivan
Family of Men - Jay Sullivan

The bonus of this process is that it created numerous opportunities for me to connect with my current family. I’ve grown closer to my immediate and extended family as I unearth family stories and memories, track down photographs and other family mementos, travel to the ancestral homelands, and then share the large wealth of information I’ve collected. I’ve not only reclaimed my childhood family but my ancestral  family as well.