a boy looks up at the sky at dusk while sitting on a bench in front of a large stone fire pit
Joakim Eskildsen

Close to Home

What a photographer found when he trained his camera on his own family

Early on in the pandemic, the Danish photographer Joakim Eskildsen captured an image of his son tilting his head toward the evening sky in the German countryside, where the family lives. The photo is moving in its simplicity and haunting in its loneliness. Dancing flames cast an orange glow on the side of the boy’s face; silhouettes of bare trees ornament the distance.

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The image is part of a series that Eskildsen began 16 years ago. After he and his partner spent 15 years traveling across Europe taking photographs, his partner became pregnant with their son, and Eskildsen realized that his work could no longer entail extensive travel. “I decided at that moment, I’m going to be a present father,” he told me recently. And so he redirected his camera closer to home, taking photographs only of things that were within walking distance.

boy on trampoline places his hands against the net surrounding it
evening photograph of a woodpile and tree near a stone house with lights on in the windows
a boy stretches in a lunge on a gym mat surrounded by books in wood-beamed room of stone house
boy holding a rope and net in homemade boat on murky green water

Home has taken on new meaning in these pandemic years, as so many of us have paid closer attention to all that surrounds us. I have learned more about my two young children in these years than would have otherwise been possible. At the same time, with our climate on the cusp of irreversible catastrophe, I have spent more time than ever before contemplating how each of our fates is inextricably linked to the actions of everyone else. Home is more than simply the residence where we sleep. It is the people we hold, and the planet that holds us.

My son is 4, and obsessed with space. Hanging on the wall of his bedroom is a poster of the solar system. The sun sits at the center, with each of the eight planets encircling the yellow-orange orb, their respective orbits depicted by thin white lines that make it look as if each is being held up in the universe by a string. He dreams of being an astronaut (and a chef and a superhero and a dinosaur). When he looks up into the night sky, the unadulterated wonder in his eyes reminds me how remarkable our presence on this fragile planet is.

This article appears in the March 2022 print edition with the headline “Close to Home.”