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How Far Is A Lightyear? Simon Lehner’s Portrait Of An Absent Father

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On meeting his father for the first time, an eight-year-old Simon Lehner asked him quizzically, “How far is a lightyear?”.

In his series titled the same, the Vienna-based photographer explores concepts of absence and presence through a father-son relationship. In ‘How Far Is A Lightyear?’ the audience assumes the role of a child, who appears to be “balancing two conflicting sides while being stuck in the firing line of a bad love story, between unstableness and ignition”, Lehner explains. Using autobiographical material, Lehner explores the impact of such a fractious parental relationship, creating a narrative where his father becomes both absent and present. He does this by manipulating the only images he has of his father. Through ever-so-slight edits—a blurred foreground, a crayon-colored head—an emotional and physical distance appears between the viewer, as Lehner, and his father. “Through this method I now have the chance to make my father tangible in a digital space”, Lehner explains, “as I try to make a portrait without physical contact.”

Giving this narrative further depth is Lehner’s use of his own childhood drawings combined with 3D renderings, to create images that delve into “memories and fantasies which hint at fears and dreams”, and the “distance and longing for a father” that he felt when his father left. Alongside these stands a single abstract image that Lehner explains as being stem cells, pictured for the purpose of an argument on DNA—does nature or nurture determine who we are? Lehner ruminates on this in his statement about the series, writing: “As children, we try to imitate certain characteristics of parents, and some are anchored in our DNA”. This image is thus a comment on his own composition, it “shows my contrasted search for attributes and characteristics [that] I have from each of my parents”.

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All images © Simon Lehner