Fathers the focus of Nancy Rubin’s photography show

Photo: Nancy Rubin
Andy with his son Jaren, 5, and his daughter Raina, 2: “Living fatherhood up and down, in the dirt.  What’s more sumptuous than having my beloveds sitting on me — feet on face, pulling my hair?  I am grateful to have the opportunity to breathe into what truly matters, again and again.  My daughter calls me ‘Papa-Love.’ She couldn’t be more right.” Photo: Nancy Rubin

UPDATE, 07.16.15: Nancy Rubin’s photography exhibition at the North Branch of the Berkeley Public Library has been extended until July 31.

ORIGINAL STORY: When Nancy Rubin taught the pioneering Social Living class at Berkeley High School from the late ’70s to the ’90s, she became something of a public figure and was often asked to comment on the challenges faced by teenagers. People would say: if there was one thing that could be changed to help the kids who are getting in trouble, what would it be? Rubin was quick to point out that there was no “magic wand.” However she did have a suggestion: “Put a loving father in every home.”

That’s not to say that children can’t be raised exceptionally well by a single mom or two women, Rubin said recently at her home, where she was preparing for her first solo photography exhibition that centers on fathers. All sorts of kids do really well in all sorts of family situations, Rubin stressed. But as someone who grew up with a “wonderful, warm” father, Rubin could only wish the same for the students she was mentoring, some of whom had no relationships with their own fathers.

Rubin’s show, “Faces of Fatherhood: Celebrating Bay Area Dads” opens on Saturday June 6, with an opening reception from 6:30-8 p.m., at Berkeley’s North Branch Library, and runs until July 1.


Photo: Nancy Rubin
Brandon with his daughter Ella, 6: “This Father’s Day in particular is so very important to me and means so much! I have spent nearly every single Father’s Day of Ella’s young life overseas in far away places, like Baghdad and Jalalabad and Peshawar. This year I am fortunate enough to spend Father’s Day with her! I love and adore her so much. It seems that my sun rises and sets with her. I feel that it is my job to teach her a lot of things. For instance we are rebuilding a classic Chevy pickup, that will one day be all hers. I’m teaching her how to work a wrench, handle a screwdriver and change the oil. And she is doing a mighty fine job at it. But, I think that the most valuable lesson that I will ever impart upon her is, to always know her worth. Be strong. Be fair and protect the innocent. In return, Ella is teaching me a few things too. She is teaching her dear old dad, to learn again, what it is like to see the the world through the eyes of a happy child. She makes my heart happy, every single day. I love every bit of her.” Photo: Nancy Rubin

Rubin, who has been a contributing photographer for Berkeleyside since 2011, is also the founder of the popular Humans of Berkeley and the Bay Area (HUBBA) project. There is no doubt she has a special aptitude for portrait photography, one that she has been honing recently in classes taught by photographer Becky Jaffe. The images Rubin takes for HUBBA capture so much of the personality and vitality of her subjects — and she has an evident skill in forging bonds with people and putting them at ease.

The idea for the new show came to her when she was shooting for HUBBA and noticed she was taking a lot of pictures of fathers out and about with their children.

“I realized I had many photos of dads with their kid(s) and many fathers were alone with their kids rather than what was familiar not that long ago — a mother out with the kids or both parents with them,” Rubin writes in the artist statement accompanying the show. “There seems to have been a sea change of men feeling comfortable pushing a stroller or doing the shopping while accompanied by their kids. I found them irresistible. I made a point to document them.” It seemed a perfect exhibition idea for the library over a period that will take in Father’s Day on June 21.

Nancy Rubin as a child with her father. Photo: courtesy Nancy Rubin
Nancy Rubin with her father Nate Rubin in 1949. Photo: courtesy Nancy Rubin

None of the fathers Rubin approached declined to have their pictures taken. In fact, many offered to meet up in a different location with their kid or kids for a shoot — although Rubin said she prefers a more candid portrait: a spot in the parking lot, or by the side of a building, say. Trader Joe’s is a good location for spotting dads, said Rubin, though Tokyo Fish on San Pablo Avenue is probably the single best place, she said.

And all Rubin’s subjects readily agreed to contribute their thoughts on fatherhood to accompany each image. In Salt of the Earth, the recently released documentary about Sebastião Salgado, the famous photographer said the act of “taking a photograph” was as much about the subject “offering the photograph” to him. He also said that often, when he shoots a portrait, he feels he is recording someone as well as photographing them, because they relate so much of their lives to him. Reading the often moving captions that Rubin always includes with her HUBBA images, as well as in the “Faces of Fatherhood” show, this also seems to be the case for her.


“The quotes are often so sweet and sometimes heartbreaking,” Rubin said, adding that she feels close to her subjects. It’s also not unusual for them to recognize her. “They’ll say, wait, you’re Nancy Rubin, you’re my former teacher!'” she said.

Rubin said she is thrilled her first solo show is taking place at the North Branch of the Berkeley Public Library, her local library. “It’s such a gorgeous venue,” she said.

And she feels sure her father, the man who had a gift of making everyone feel special, who “greeted you with a strong handshake or more often a big bear hug,” and encouraged her to explore the world and to capture memories of her trips, would appreciate a collection of images of fathers.

“I am definitely my father’s daughter. We share the same three initials; the family resemblance can’t be missed; and for many years my dad had a darkroom,” she writes in her statement. “Most importantly, I always felt loved by my dad and I know he would be a proud father to see this exhibit in his hometown, just blocks from where he grew up.”

Photo: Nancy Rubin
Taichi  with  his daughter Miu, 16 months: “We named our daughter Miu. Miu means “beautiful wing” in Japan. Having beautiful minds and fly across borders, this is our expectation in her name. She is growing up so fast, so sometimes we are worried she may fly too high, too soon:) Photo: Nancy Rubin

“Faces of Fatherhood” opens on Saturday June 6 and runs through July 1 at the North Branch of the Berkeley Public Library at 1170 The Alameda, Berkeley 94707. An opening reception with light refreshments takes place on Saturday June 6, 6:30-8 p.m. For more information, visit the library’s website and the exhibition’s Facebook event page.


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