If you Google the words ‘World’s Best Father‘, you’ll be directed to the website of a man (I refuse to give him further publicity by typing his name – henceforth he shall be simply referred to as WBF) who has taken photographing his young daughter to incredible extremes. He has posed, photo-shopped and constructed some admittedly incredible shots and now has millions of followers and a successful book. He is clearly helped by having a very photogenic and remarkably cooperative child and – who knows? – he might indeed be the actual WBT. However, as far as I’m concerned he’s actually the World’s Most Annoying Father (WMAF) and needs to just stop it already. Enough!

It’s not that these delightful tableaus of him and his daughter both in pink tutus at ballet class aren’t zany and funny, or that the one where he’s multiplied her five times so that a small army of identical little tykes are running rings round him in the kitchen isn’t cute and inventive. It’s just that if he keeps on doing this then other fathers are going to feel the pressure to try it themselves and that’s going to lead to nothing but a world of pain and disappointment. In my previous column, I explained how it was hard enough just to get Fred to look at the camera and smile: imagine if I also had to get him to pretend to be floating in zero gravity with me? Or running away from some imaginary, to-be-added-later-in-photo-shop bears? It’s just not happening. Plus, I’d have to buy an expensive tripod. And some lights.

The irony is that in seeking to record my son’s formative stages I’ve somehow managed to erase myself from the picture

The thing is though, it’s not the elaborate set-ups that rankle. I’ve never gone in for that kind of heavily constructed photography. No, what I realise was getting my goat before I’d even seen the WBFs pictures was a realisation about the stunning absence of myself from the thousands upon thousands of pictures of Fred I’ve taken over the past four years. Obviously I understand that’s how it works, I take the photos so I’m not usually in them. My wife features quite heavily and every now and again I’ll hand the camera to a passing stranger and we’ll get a shonky, out of focus one of the three of us but mostly it’s just Fred. On his own.

If I was to get all pretentious about it, I’d say I’m a ghostly presence. You can catch me in certain reflections in the background, I’m there by accident not intention. Or, if I were to get really pretentious about it you could say I’m a vampire. As a photographer my life blood is the experiences of others, that’s what I feed on but I don’t participate. These photos show Fred growing up but I’m almost completely missing. The irony of this is truly world class. In seeking to record my son’s formative stages I’ve somehow managed to erase myself from the picture. Years from now, I imagine Fred looking back through this vast catalogue of memories and struggling to find a couple of decent pictures of me to show his own kids. What was Grandad like when you were growing up, Daddy? They’ll ask. Erm, well here’s one of him reflected in this hub-cap. You can just about make out his bald head if you squint a bit…

There must be generations of men who don’t exist in their family snaps precisely because they were the ones doing all the recording. It even helps perpetrate the myth of the distant, absent father when in fact it’s not that we can’t be bothered, it’s just that we want so much to prove it happened that we end up not being present ourselves in the evidence. So from now on, I’m never leaving the house without a camera AND a full length mirror.

Follow Stephen on Flickr

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