Full disclosure—I’m not actually the World’s Best Father. I did manage a respectable 7th place at the county level back in ‘11, but I’ve never even advanced to regionals, let alone international competition.
In February 2011, my wife Jen and I created a photograph that would literally alter the course of our lives. Our daughter Alice Bee was 66 days old at the time, and even though Jen and I had gotten over our initial amazement that 63 days earlier the nurses at the hospital had allowed two such obviously ill-prepared people to walk out with a newborn child, we were both still feeling an almost constant anxiety about our total cluelessness around raising (or is it rearing? I always get those mixed-up) an infant. Additionally, we were both exhausted, constantly afraid that we were screwing up (a fear, I’ve since learned never really goes away), and completely and totally in love with each other and with our wonderful, amazing, beautiful daughter who we both agreed was the most perfect thing either of us had ever seen.
The sleeplessness combined with the cluelessness and constant fears of failure were causing me to do what I always do when confronted with things I don’t understand or don’t like—find a way to make fun of those things. The constant joking about these feelings of inadequacy ultimately led to my decision to create an image that captured new fatherhood by showing exactly how out of it I felt as a new father.
For the shot, I wanted to capture and gently poke fun at the cluelessness I was feeling as a new father, portray the abrupt changes to the routine and life of the new dad, while at the same time showing a father who (no matter how reluctantly) is adjusting to his new life not just because it’s his duty, but because he genuinely would do anything for the new love of his life. At the time of the shoot, Alice Bee was getting pretty good at supporting her own head, and as a result I had been taking great joy in walking around the house with her in a football grip or posing with her like the Heisman statue, so I knew that holding her in this way for the photograph would be a good way to portray the clueless dad going about his daily routine while taking his turn caring for the newborn.
Over the previous 66 days, there had also been LOTS of jokes about breast milk in our household (99% of those generated by the male half of our marriage) so it was a fairly obvious connection for me to portray the sleep-deprived dad distractedly using the baby’s milk for his own coffee. The coffee, combined with the sports page on the counter would represent the interrupted daily routine.
Finally, I needed to pick a mug for the image itself. I’d always been amused by T-shirts and mugs containing superlative titles like “World’s Greatest” and I realized that having the clueless dad’s mug proclaim his expertise at fatherhood would totally bring all the elements of the shot together. I ordered the mug online, having no idea that this particular mug would wind up in over 100 (and counting) images featuring me and Alice Bee.
Of all the shots in the series, this one is still my favorite. It’s one of only a small handful of images from the series that was taken as a single shot, rather than being created from multiple images. I spent hours framing the shot with the camera on a tripod in order to get all the elements in place. The angle of this particular shot was extremely important—I needed for the viewer to be able to read the text on the mug, see the sports page on the counter, read the writing on the bottle, see the stream of milk coming out of the bottle, and I needed to accomplish all of this while keeping my head in the frame (I’m 6’5”, which often comes into play when trying to balance a shot with me and a model who only recently topped 3 feet in height). Even the color of my sweatpants was carefully calculated to provide a dark enough background for the viewer to be able to see the milk streaming from the bottle.
After finally getting the shot framed and the lights set up (I used two small mono lights with soft boxes) I had Jen step behind the camera to fire the cable release at my direction. It took us several attempts to get our timing down—we ultimately took over fifty shots, with me attempting to use my limited acting skills to appear exhausted and clueless (not that hard, since I was actually both of those things). The image you see here was the best of the bunch, and we both love the way that Alice Bee is so intently focused on the stream of milk. One of the things I love best about photography is capturing those little, unexpected, serendipitous moments that can happen in a split second. This is why we shoot a lot every time—hoping to have that one little magic moment that will transform a good idea into a great image.
A lot has changed in the two and a half years since posting this particular image online for my friends and family. Our images have since been featured in newspapers, magazines, and websites around the world. Alice Bee and I have appeared on the Today Show and been filmed in our home for Good Morning Germany. Our book Confessions of the World’s Best Father is being published by Gotham Books on May 6, 2014. Jen and I are grateful for all of the unexpected attention and subsequent exposure given to our images, but for us the most pleasurable aspect of all of this is the continual support and encouragement we receive from people all over the world. I genuinely had no idea that so many people would connect with our family’s offbeat sense of humor, and for me, this has been by far the most rewarding aspect of having a much larger audience for our work.
I hope to use this space to share new work from our photo series, as well as to provide the occasional longer-form post about our favorite images, including behind-the-scenes details about our process, anecdotes from the shoots, and whatever else people are interested in learning about what we do. I’m much better at taking pictures than I am at writing, but the good news is that even if you can’t make it all the way through one of my rambling blog posts, at least there’ll be some funny pictures to look at.
See more of our work here.
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