As a new dad, Dave Engledow thought it would be funny to post a photo on his Facebook page that reflected both his new-father status—and his extreme fatigue. The response to that first photoshopped picture of Dave and baby daughter Alice Bee inspired a hilarious series of pictures that went viral—and are collected in a new book, Confessions of the World’s Best Father.
With Father’s Day approaching, we asked the self-styled “World’s Best” to tell us more about his photo project, his adorable daughter and his advice for other inexperienced dads.
What sparked your idea for this series of photographs?
I think it was probably the lack of sleep. I wanted to create an image that both captured the exhaustion I was experiencing while at the same time satirizing the stereotype of the clueless dad (which, to be honest, is a stereotype that was pretty accurate for me at the time). The "World's Best Father" mug was added almost as an afterthought to that first shot that portrayed me sleepily squirting Alice's milk into my own coffee.
How did you come up with the scenarios for each photo? How much help did you have during the planning or shoots?
Early on, the ideas were mainly inspired by my constant fears and neuroses—I was perpetually worried that I was going to be that guy you read about on the news who left the baby on top of the car on the way to work. Creating these photos helped me play out some of those worries. As the series has progressed, the scenarios have been influenced by everything from milestones in Alice Bee's growth to pop culture phenomenons like Gagnam Style. My wife Jen often helps me come up with the scenarios and provides a lot of help in adding small details to the scenes. I generally set up the scene and lights on my own, and then Jen helps make sure Alice is safe, happy, and performing the way we need her to for the shot. For the year that Jen was [deployed] in Korea, I had many different friends help me with the shoots.
Which photo in the book required the most elaborate production? What all was involved?
Probably the Cookie Stealing Investigation (CSI), which is a shot of Alice Bee wearing a cat burglar mask, sitting next to a pile of stolen cookies, hiding on a shelf in a darkened room. I am holding a blacklight, which is illuminating dozens of tiny hand and foot prints leading from the cookie jar to her location. This required my assistant-of-the-day Maggie and I to dip Alice's feet and hands in white paint, press her hands and feet on to plastic transparency sheets, cut out the hand prints and foot prints, and then strategically place the plastic prints in the scene, shoot, replace, shoot, etc until we had created the trail you see in the final image. The even harder part of the shoot was getting Alice Bee to wear the cat burglar mask—luckily, this was maybe the only shoot we've ever done where the very first shot of Alice Bee was perfect, so we only needed her to wear the mask one time.
What’s the most surprising, interesting—or impassioned—response one of your photos has elicited?
We get LOTS of positive responses all the time from both parents and children all over the world who see something in the images that connect them to their own families. These are the responses we love the most and the ones that encourage us to keep shooting. However, the most impassioned responses we receive are generally from people who have not seen our work before and appear to not quite understand that these are intended as satire. I recently re-posted an image of a 15 month-old Alice Bee sitting on an outdoor grill, her feet on the grate next to a charcoal fire, preparing to flip burgers. A woman who had obviously never seen our work before kept commenting about how dangerous it was to have Alice Bee sitting on the grill, even when others in the comment thread tried to explain to her that it wasn't real. Her final comment was something along the lines of "Her feet could get burned—there are much safer ways for children to use the grill!"
How has the photo-taking process evolved as Alice Bee gets older?
We have to be more strategic in how we do the shoots, since she now has the ability to just get up and walk away if she's bored with what we're doing. We generally try to make it seem like a game to her—we'll start getting her excited early in the week ("Guess what? We're going to have a tea party on Saturday" or "You're going to get to play with a toy you've never played with before—it's called an Adding Machine") and try to make it as interesting as possible for her. My fantasy is that as she gets a little older, the two of us will come up with ideas together and we'll become partners in crime.
How are you keeping her grounded in light of her worldwide fame?
Luckily, Alice Bee does not yet fully understand that she is Internet-famous. I think she just thinks that it's perfectly normal to have an entire book with her pictures in it. In real life, Jen and I are in occupations that require us to set ego aside and we both do our best to be thoughtful, respectful and humble in our interactions with others. Hopefully, setting this type of example will help Alice Bee remain grounded once she learns that people all over the world know who she is.
Your wife, Jen, appears in just a couple of the photos. Does she ever feel left out? What does she think about all of this?
Jen loves these images and is definitely a co-conspirator. She has been involved in some aspect of the creation of almost every single image in this series. She actually prefers to stay behind the scenes, but now that Alice Bee is older and more persuasive, the two of us have been able to convince Jen to appear in more of the images. Since her return from Korea, Alice and I have convinced Jen to appear in at least one image a month.
Do you have a favorite photo? Which one and why?
The very first image in the series is still my favorite. I think it perfectly captures the sleep deprivation and cluelessness I was experiencing at the time. It is also one of the only images in the series that was taken in a single shot, and every detail was painstakingly thought out in advance, from the color of my sweatpants to the angle of the milk stream. The only part that was serendipitous was Alice Bee's longing sideways stare at her milk going into my cup.
Is the project ongoing? What’s up next for you and Ms. Alice Bee?
The project is still ongoing, with over 125 images in the series and counting. My goal is to keep doing it for as long as Alice Bee is game. For folks that follow our work on Facebook, we have a number of ideas we'll be exploring in the coming weeks, including Alice's current fascination with Wonder Woman.
As the world's best father, what advice would you like to pass along to your fellow dads?
There is no greater pleasure in the world than making your kid laugh. No matter how tired, frustrated, sleep deprived, stressed out, homicidal you may be feeling at the time, if you concentrate on generating those peals of tiny belly laughs, everything else will pale in comparison and those other feelings will rapidly disappear. That laughter the two of you will share together really is the best thing ever.
All photos copyright Dave Engledow.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Father's Day feature on gift books for Dad.