ECHOLILA: On a Son and Father Discovering Their Identities


All images by Timothy Archibald. Used with permission.

“Well I did want these images to feel like it felt to be with him, and I think there is a sense of being in a minor key here a bit.” says photographer Timothy Archibald about his project Echolila. “He continued to state “I wanted to avoid kid colors, kid logos, and all of the plastic of childhood, so that may give these images a bit of a timeless palette to them.” The project started out with Tim simply trying to find a way to spend time with his son and evolved into something much deeper and beautiful.

To Tim and his son, it was about discovery on both their parts.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography and how you got into portraiture?

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Tim: To me the portrait was always the real substance of photography- it made me get out of my solitary self, made me engage with another person and really could not be done without some form of collaboration and co-operation…you just couldn’t do it yourself. Now a photo made by me just looking at something, a landscape say, well that didn’t carry the risk, the adrenaline or the payoff that a portrait seemed to deliver. It seems like that was an initial attraction when I was learning photography and is what I kind of built a career on as well.

Phoblographer: Echolilia is a very special project where you collaborate (as you say) with your son. He’s got autism; but where did the idea to work with your son in this way come from?

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Tim: ECHOLILIA was a collaborative project that really wasnt a project at all in the beginning. It was really just me spending time with my kid, in a one on one, and hoping I could capture his differences on film—and he was very different but in a very subtle way. Out of this attempt came a series of images that he would lead and I would follow, in a way. The images that we created had this shock of the new to me…they really seemed fresh to me. Of course I am always chasing the interesting images, trying to make more of them, so we then began spending time with a bit more intention.

Phoblographer: Do you feel like photography and art has been a way for both of you to get through this? Is it therapeutic in some ways?

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Tim: Certainly this project connected us. It allowed me to learn about him and it also let him understand me better as well. Collaboration is powerful–it’s not about you any more and everything is more about listening to the other…and I mean collaboration in general. Our project had that, and was fueled by this sense of discovery on both parts I think.

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My first book came out in 2005 : “Sex Machines : Photographs And Interviews” . That book took 3 years to shoot, 2 years to get a publisher, then we had shows and events to promote it all over the country. My life at this point in 2010 was much less indulgent…I knew I couldn’t put all if that time into this book. So I hired a designer, laid it out, found a printer and started selling them out of my garage. The first day they were for sale I sold one and was amazed. They have been selling since then.

Phoblographer: So how do you talk to your son about your creative vision and how do you the real life events translate into the work that you two create?

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Tim: Really when working on a project with a five year old, there is no time when we are discussing a creative vision. We are just simply doing something together. Our process was as follows: he would do something interesting…an action, a gesture, and I would take note of it. We’d then try to keep it in mind for something we could recreate again in a simple space, where the light is nice, or where we had the room to do it well. Shoots really would be measured in minutes: 5 minutes, 7 minutes, everything needed to happen fast with his attention span being what it is. But it did seem like he could summon up intense focus at those times.

Phoblographer: What about the book? Why create it? Does part of it have something to do with Autism awareness?

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Tim: Keep in mind that these are observations after the fact–at the time Eli was 5-8, and he is now 14. ” ECHOLILA / Sometimes I Wonder” the book was released in 2010, though people seem to continually discover it anew.

The idea of doing a book simply fit into my life: I wanted to share the work but I was a busy dad of two boys. Creating the book and selling it out of my garage was a way to do that and still raise my kids, work my job, and continue with the path of life.

Really I am not very concerned with the issues of Autism. I hoped the project would transcend that issue and speak to everyone, remind people of a sense of childhood imagination, and use the curious qualities of Autism to fuel the project…it certainly gave us something to figure out. But the power of relationships is really what I’d like people to take away from the project when they leave it.

Phoblographer: It seems like lots of the work has s focus on keeping the colors simple while using contrast to effectively place Eli; was this an intention creative decision?

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Tim: Well I did want these images to feel like it felt to be with him, and I think there is a sense of being in a minor key here a bit. I wanted to avoid kid colors, kid logos, and all of the plastic of childhood, so that may give these images a bit of a timeless palette to them.

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