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A Tale of Two Fathers, by Julia Horbaschk & Tim Andrews, is the start of a longer term project exploring the themes of loss & memory. In this short film Julia starts to explore her father’s suicide whilst Tim remembers a father he never really knew. Julia Horbaschk is a producer, photographer and self-taught film maker specialising in social documentaries, editorial, portrait and travel. Tim Andrews’ Over the Hill photographic project has led him to be photographed by over 420 during the last nine years after his diagnosis of parkinson’s.
How did you and Tim meet?
Julia: Tim and I met at his Mini Click presentation on 13th July 2013, the day before my birthday at The Green Door Store in Brighton. I went for his talk really as I had just left behind my teaching career after 10 years due to a severe disk prolapse and I was curious about his project Over the Hill and the merging of photography & health. We had a chat after his talk – Alison Palmer was there too and we all exchanged contacts. Shortly after I received an email from Tim asking me if I’d like to photograph him. I said yes immediately and we met up at the Friends Meeting Place cafe on Hove seafront to get to know each other and pick brains for ideas. It’s what I like to do before I photograph anyone – I meet them without my camera. You can read further both of our accounts of how we met here and here.
What was the stimulus for making the film?
Julia: The stimulus was to carry on working together creatively after I took Tim’s picture for Over the Hill. We had already collaborated on a few short films and wanted to do something a little more comprehensive and meaningful. During a very funny cafe chat at the Bandstand Cafe we looked at all the things we had in common: being silly, stealing in childhood (don’t tell anyone!), liking Monty Python, oh and we both lost our fathers when we were young! This seemed to be a topic I never really addressed and wanted to challenge myself with for a long time. I just didn’t know how. Tim said he often interviews family and friends about their life and suggested we both write down questions for each other. This is how it started. We then wanted to bring some more artistic elements into the work rather than it just being documentary – not sure how much we succeeded in this but it’s a start I suppose!
Has the making of the documentary been cathartic in any way?
Julia: It wasn’t intended but I think yes to some extent it was cathargic. It wasn’t easy, I had never talked about the suicide of my father publicly up until then and it felt quite vulnerable. I also never made a film so personal to me.
Tim was so bold and frank with his questions – he encouraged me to talk – hiding was no longer an option and I found a certain level of confidence when talking to him. There are hints of me being emotional – a smile from me may actually show my embarrassment rather then suggests that I am laughing. I was/ still am very aware around the stigma of suicide. However, with Tim it didn’t matter. I think knowing him really helped me to open up. Tim was never judgemental towards me and my experience, this really made all the difference.
We are both self taught filmmakers, autodidacts and what we produced is quite raw and honest and perhaps not to everyone’s taste.
What was cathargic also was the process of making the film, not to worry too much about technicalities or academic approach.
There is value in hearing each other’s stories. I come from a culture where “production values” are sometimes dominating the underlying meaning of visual work. I have taken great inspiration from Werner Herzog in this respect and just went with what was there “a straight look”. This is not to say I/we don’t want to learn more about clever technics or an academic approach but as it stands this is it.
The short film does not tell the full story but it has opened up an avenue for us to explore new ways of working and this is very liberating and exciting!
Tim: Not so much for me but l have seen how much it means to Julia and that has been very gratifying. My feelings about my father are not so painful or unhappy because l never knew him. My life would have been totally different if he had lived but, as it happens, l have had a wonderful life – l have been very happy anyway. l think this is what connects me and Julia, a shared sense of humour and of loss and yet we have survived and enjoyed where we have got to.
I’m curious about what emotions making the film may have brought up. Was it difficult researching into the past?
Julia: Yes and no. As said with Tim it’s easy to talk, but then you are always aware of the camera and who might see the film. Will they judge you? What will they think about you? About your opinions, ways to deal with the matter? I started to talk to my sister about it a little but there is still the big crunch point of my mother. She cannot talk about my father at all for various reasons. I hence feel some guilt towards making the film and have not been able to tell her about it. This is very difficult for me. Also there is so little left of my father. Only a few photographs. No one in the family really talks about what happened. There was so much pain, so many other issues: domestic violence, divorce, gambling. Half of the family does not speak to each other any more. Hard to get any truthful facts. I wished I would still have some of the objects he once gave me (a wooden heart) or his passport or see his medical records for example. Just something to work with. That’s the hardest the photographs are all I’ve got. When I found out my uncle had written a book I was half ecstatic, half in agony. The relationship to my uncle broke down at the time my parents divorced. But since the book was available on Amazon I just bought it, every piece of memory to my father is precious. I wished he had written some letters to me!
How do you see the film/project developing?
Julia: I would really like it to continue. There are a few routes we thought about taking this project forward. One is by finding more people who lost their fathers and find out how it impacted on their lives/ what creative ways they may have found to deal with loss/ memory or include them in a continued participatory project. I hope it will encourage people to talk about their stories and although this may be a bit ambitious, I hope it will have a positive impact somewhere somehow helping protect lives from suicide.
The other is personal to me: In 1999/2000, When I was about 23, I produced a large body of work on 35mm slide film following my fathers journey into Europe and travelling mainly by myself. These images were a direct expression of my feelings of loss and seeking stability within myself. They include some long term exposure self-portraits (you can imagine them a bit in the style of Francesca Woodman – just in colour and only I had never heard of her at this time!).
There are over 100 images/ slides taken mainly in Switzerland and Paris. I tried to run through them all once with my lecturer at Brighton Uni but I got so overwhelmed as I could not express why I took these nor find a way to describe/ use/ present them. I was embarrassed about them. I always knew I want come back to them at some point and now 17 years later I may have found the right people to help me look at them again.