With How far is a lightyear? Austrian photographer Simon Lehner signed a splendid series, mixing images, archives and even 3D to enter the imagination of a growing young boy.

“I took my first photography class in high school when I was 14, taught by a fantastic teacher. He came into the classroom and started talking about what photography could be instead of what we think it is and from those first sentences I knew that this would be my favourite tool to express myself”, Simon Lehner remembers. This 23-year-old artist, based in Vienna, has been experimenting with imagery ever since – playing with photography, painting, archives, and even 3D. “In general, the work comes from an autobiographical core where I explore psychological and sensomotor emotions”, he adds.

How far is a lightyear? a project selected by the 2018 Paris Photo student Carte blanche, documents the upbringing of a child in a fatherless family. “I met my father for the first time in 2005 when I was 9. He left again a while later” the artist tells us. First produced as a sort of therapy, the series rapidly transformed into a more universal piece, questioning the notions of identity and relationship. “It is why I decided to publish the work”, Simon Lehner says.

The memories and fantasies of a child

The photographer adopted the viewpoint of a child to build his narrative. A story flirting with imagination, and borrowing from the carefree pastimes of youth. “Video games were just as a part of my childhood as drawing on a piece of paper was”, he recalls. In his pictures, the boy holds a certain vulnerability, reacting to the passing of time and the ordeals left to endure. The cave thus becomes a hiding place, as rough as it is reassuring. “It could also represent the love of a mother”, he adds. Conversing with these scenes, a few digital drawings recompose his father’s figure. A way for the photographer to imitate his presence, using old portraits of him to make him appear without having to meet him again.

By feel, Simon Lehner created an intimate space, where reality and fiction merge together. A separate place, combining the memories and fantasies of a child, but also the maturity of a man questioning himself. “We follow a boy who finds himself balancing two conflicting sides – his mother and father – while being stuck in the firing line of a bad love story”, he adds. Facing this difficult time, the escape to a fanciful world becomes the only option. A sensitive representation of an (extra)ordinary drama.

© Simon Lehner