Nat Geo Photographers Share Poignant Pictures of Their Fathers

They grew up to become some the world's most acclaimed photographers. Here, they share memories of the help they had along the way.

In honor of Father’s Day this weekend, we asked our photographers to share their favorite pictures and stories about their dads. Along with the photos came touching memories of fishing trips, cups of coffee, and the mysterious sounds of a ham radio. And regardless of the setting, they’re all infused with admiration, gratitude, wistfulness, and love.

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“My father, Norman Muller, sits for a portrait in his study in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. For the last 35 years, he has served as an art conservator and scholar of art history at Princeton University. It was in his laboratory that I learned, despite my rebellious disinterest at the time, about classical painting and the compositional and stylistic elements that influence my photography today. Beyond art, he imparted to me a keen interest in history and the natural world, both subjects that have guided my pursuits and worldview. 'Read widely and voraciously,' he'd say, emphasizing curiosity as the key to a fulfilling life. He turns 80 this year, and I am grateful that we continue to discover one another.”

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“There are two fathers I think of on Father’s Day. My father was born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1910. There is a lot I don’t know about my father. He died when I was ten, and more than a generation separated us. Culturally, we were worlds apart. I grew up in the New York of the 1960s and '70s, as far away from his worldview as imaginable. I know it was tough for him to come home from work and see his son playing air guitar to the Beatles. I cannot thank him enough for making my world one of opportunity, freedom, and security.

“Fast forward to 2004. My father-in-law, Herbie, pictured above, was living in New Jersey, and I was in San Francisco with my wife, Julie, and our two children. Herbie was losing his mental capacity due to dementia, so we made the decision to relocate our family in order to care for him. I finally got the chance to have a father, even if it was in a diminished capacity. Life moves in sometimes tragic and sometimes poetically graceful ways. How could I have known way back when I was ten, feeling fear, confusion, and pain at the loss of my father, that so many years later I would gain that figure in my life, yet poignantly, my role was not as cared for but as caregiver.”

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“Paradise for me is this place, at this moment. That's my dad, John Sartore, standing in the backyard of his mother's house in Arma, Kansas. He usually didn't like having his picture taken but made an exception that night. We'd just gone fishing at dusk on a farm pond, where he'd caught a six-pound bass. Where we come from, that's as big as they get.

“My father and I had some of the best times of our lives fishing together. It was just he and I in our little rowboat. We took turns at the oars and threw topwater plugs. We watched quail and deer and otter along the banks. The air was thick and buggy and smelled like steamed leaves. Afterwards, we fried fish and eggs in real butter.

“Dad lives in a memory care unit now, a place where even the photos don't work anymore. How I wish he could remember just this, if nothing else.”

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“My father was Ralph Richardson, known to ham radio operators around the world as WØGIG. By the time I took this picture of our son Tyler sitting on his lap, watching his Grandpa tune in the world, a microphone had replaced his Morse code key. That code was the sound I grew up with, the sound of dots and dashes, the staccato code amid the hissing static, the sound of my father on his radio. Even now I can remember it drifting into the living room while we watched Red Skelton. Or echoing softly in the night as I lay on a blanket under the stars in the front yard of our farmhouse in Kansas. In code he was calling 'CQ,' radio jargon for 'seek you,' looking in the wide world for other hams to talk to. He found them. Guys in Iowa or Idaho, once even in New Zealand. It delighted him to connect with someone halfway around the world. They would talk about their radios, what time it was there, then the weather, and then they would drift off, looking for someone else to talk to. ‘CQ, CQ, CQ.’

“It was a great gift that he gave me, the thought that I could reach out to the world any time I wanted to—even though we only went to town on Saturdays. But it also made us remote from one another. The sound of the code reminds me, even now, that I shouldn’t interrupt him. He worked hard farming and driving a truck; he had few pleasures. But I find that it makes me a little bitter to be remembering this, the remoteness and the longing for him. We should have said more to each other, but we never quite got the knack of it. Neither of us. By the time I took this picture he was on the long slope down going away. I miss him now, but I also miss what I missed. I have his code key above my desk. It’s a fine Vibroplex that my mother gave him, the finest and most cherished Christmas present he ever got.”

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“In 2012, my father, Gary, and I took a road trip, driving 5,400 miles from my base in New York to our home north of Seattle. We recorded it and our thoughts onto discs as we drove deeper into the country, passing through mostly old, abandoned downtown areas while avoiding strip malls, following local roads more than expressways to avoid those new suburban areas that all look the same.

“If Dad liked a restaurant’s service he said so, tipping a waiter well and having me photograph them together. When helped along the way by the various workers-of-America, he took time telling them how he appreciated their service. Other times he entertained himself, having me pull over so he could stand inside a giant field sprinkler and pretend to drink from a spigot. But mainly he seemed to want to watch me enjoy things. He mentioned the joy of being a father driving cross-country with a son and hoped I would have the same chance someday. I say even if I do not, at least I drove it with him."

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"My father, Larry Foglia, and my mother, Heather Forest, kiss by a coastal redwood in Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve in Mendocino County, California. My father's love for my mother and our family has been steadfast. The values with which he raised me have shaped the way I see."

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“My dad was always distant when I was growing up. He had a hard time separating himself from his work. As I grew older and slowly turned from a boy into a young man, he realized that he had missed out on something. It was then, when I was preparing to launch out into the world, that he really began to reach out to me. I’m so glad that he did because as the years rolled forward we were able to build a strong relationship. Now, I am a father and my father is in his seventies. We can talk about anything, give each other support in times of need, and he has become one of my best friends. I made this mysterious image of my father in Big Sur, California, in the wintertime. I took a long exposure, pointing the lens at a river surrounded by fallen leaves and then at my dad.”

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“It's been 20 years since we were first separated. When I last saw you, Father, I was seven. We left our home in Moscow and moved to America. We never said good-bye to you. All these years later, I am sitting across from you, in your home in Armenia. I listen to you speak. I am learning so much about you. The little things: You like your coffee dark but sweet. The big things: You prefer to be alone.”