Some dads play peek-a-boo with their kids. Some play catch.
Dave Engledow stages photo shoots.
Engledow, a Texas native now living in the Maryland suburbs of D.C., is the creative force behind a series of "World's Best Father" photos. The images depict Engledow with his daughter, 2-year-old Alice Bee, in a variety of hilarious — and unlikely — circumstances.
In one New Year's-themed shot, Alice Bee and her dad pour champagne into side-by-side towers (Dave pours into champagne coupes; Alice Bee into plastic baby bottles). In another, the little girl, blond and angelic as can be, struggles with her dad in an epic arm-wrestling match.
One prop appears in every photo: a black and white "World's Best Father" mug.
"About six or eight weeks after Alice was born, I wanted to do a shot to capture how clueless I felt as a new father — something for new dads everywhere."
That photo depicted Engledow accidentally using a bottle of breast milk in his coffee — "something I'm sure has been done before!" he jokes.
"At the last minute, I thought it would be funnier if the cup said 'Father of the Year.' So I found the 'World's Best Father' mug and took the shot. I posted it on Facebook and got really positive feedback from my friends and family."
A few months later, Engledow followed up with a Fourth of July-themed post showing Alice Bee playing with lit fireworks. "I got more feedback," says Engledow, "and things took off from there."
Engledow often spends more than six hours creating each image. He starts by shooting his part of the scene. Next, he shoots Alice Bee. "If it's something she's interested in, like washing the dishes, it'll take two minutes," he says. "If she's not interested, we'll take breaks and play games."
With the shooting finished, Engledow heads to his computer to meld the images. "I could probably spend 15 hours in editing," he laughs. Once finished, he posts the photos on Facebook.
Though she doesn't appear in the photos, Engledow stresses that his wife, Jen, plays an integral role in their creation. "She assists with the shoots, helps wrangle Alice Bee, does hair and wardrobe, and even more importantly, often has great ideas for small details in the shot that can help make a good idea into a great shot."
Jen is in the military, currently stationed in South Korea, but she remains an active participant in the photos. "We generally make the final decisions about which images to use together," says Engledow. "She's a very vital part of the whole process."
Engledow studied photojournalism at the University of Texas in Austin, though these days he is primarily an amateur photographer — by day he works for a D.C. nonprofit. But as his popularity has grown on Facebook and Twitter, so has his photography. In 2012, he published a limited-edition calendar of Alice Bee images, funded by Kickstarter.
"I was looking for money to print 200 calendars for friends and family," he says. By the end of the year, he had sold 1,500 calendars.
But his original goal was not to start a business. "Part of my goal was to create something that would get my friends who don't have kids to hit the 'like' button on Facebook," he laughs, admitting that he has many childless friends who complain about people posting too many kid pictures on social media.
Engledow's photos resonate with that group — and beyond.
"I like his photos so much because of the simple humor in them," says Facebook fan Coral Matthynssens. "Today we often focus on the seriousness of life. It is nice to see that someone has a sense of humor and a family bond."
Some of Engledow's photos inspire some controversy. In one, taken at Thanksgiving, Alice Bee holds a turkey over a fryer.
"I try, with the style of the photos, to telegraph the joke," says Engledow. "But still, every once in a while, people look and think it's real."
Most of Engledow's fans are in on the joke. "You've got a wonderfully warped sense of humor," wrote Eleanor DeRoma Branch on Engledow's Facebook page.
The photos are funny, but Branch admits that she's drawn to the pictures for more than their humor. "It's such a unique way to chronicle his daughter's life," she says. "I see his photos as love letters to his daughter."
Engledow has heard those comments before. "I've gotten a lot of feedback from daughters. I hadn't thought about it, but the father-daughter bond is built in. Even though the situations are fake, Alice and I are spending time together."