When their children nap, most new parents either try to catch up on their own sleep or try to get some work done. But Adele Enersen, a new mother in Helsinki, Finland, instead used her baby Mila's naptimes to make adorable artistic photographs. She created a variety of imagined backgrounds with her sleeping baby as the centerpiece, all of which told a little story. She sent the photos in a blog to friends and family, which then turned viral and has been seen by millions of people around the world. Some of the best were published recently in a book, When My Baby Dreams.
Making use of simple clothing and readily available household objects, Ms. Enersen envisions baby Mila having various pleasant experiences and adventures. In one Mila resembles a mini Bo-Peep, seemingly petting a lamb. The lamb's torso was made with a bunched up white scarf, his legs and head with black socks belonging to Adele's husband Lasse. Both are set against a landscape of green, being two folds of a throw with fringe representing grass. In another Mila is placed on a white rug above some supposedly tall buildings — colored pillowcases with white pieces of paper representing windows — transforming her into a baby Superman soaring above skyscrapers. The accompanying text reads "When my baby dreams of being big she grows tall enough to take over the city." On the next page Mila, dressed in a white onesie with a white paper plate encircling her head and simple cut-out stars and planets around her, is an astronaut floating in space (tethered to an unseen spaceship), "gigantic enough to cover the universe." In the next page she has shrunk, small enough to be sleeping under a mushroom, the cap fashioned from a red shirt with white polka-dots and the stem from a white dish towel.
Another charming photo imagines Mila as a bookworm, with an extended white body of bunched up white material, large nerdy black glasses on her face and books scattered about her. Yet another depicts Mila as a butterfly with white towels as wings under her naturally outstretched arms, brown tiddlywinks on them to illustrate their decorative markings.
This writer's favorite shows Mila dreaming of "traveling the world ... on the back of an Indian elephant." A baby blanket is wrapped around Mila's head as though it were a turban and the elephant on which she rides is a cleverly folded light blue cardigan, one long arm its trunk. A straw in Milas' hand becomes a riding crop. The next page shows Mila "taming a leopard on an African safari," a leopard-spotted throw stretched and folded to represent a creature on the run, with Mila riding on its back. Another image has her similarly riding a deep-pink Chinese dragon. Noting that some old blue bed sheets resembled the color of the ocean, Ms. Enersen laid Mila, dressed in white pajamas and laying on white scarves, on the blue sheets, so the image shows Mila "tucked in at night like a precious pearl," with an Octopus made from pink material standing guard.
How did all this get started? Ms. Enersen explained that when Mila was first born she slept a lot and Ms. Enersen missed her and wanted to be with her, but all she could do was watch her sleep, so she spent hours doing so and imagining what her dreams might be. One day during nap time she placed a few simple items such as pillows and blankets lying around the house around the infant and put a daisy in her hand from a bouquet she'd received in the hospital and presto, there was a forest background. She then created more enchanting scenes during subsequent naps. Unlike Anne Geddes, to whom she has been compared, Ms. Enersen used the simplest items for her creations. She prides herself on never having purchased any props, and feels that was more fun as well as economical and eco-friendly. With little time to create her scenes she could not produce anything elaborate, so she used only items at hand around the house and no professional lighting, just natural light from a nearby window.
Everything in the photos are from her home: a pashmina converts into a pink moon, cut-out gold paper are stars in the night sky. Mila becomes a surfer girl with a blanket and scarf fashioned into waves and a piece of paper under her feet for a surfboard.
Asked about the advisability of disturbing a sleeping baby, Ms. Enersen replied: "Oh, believe you me, I'm all for letting a sleeping baby sleep as long as she wants to. Mila used to be such a wonderful snoozer, now she's a bit more ... rambunctious, you could say! But believe it or not, I usually didn't manipulate her pose at all. Sometimes, I did test shoots while she was already awake, just to make sure that I'd know where to put her in the set once she was sleeping a deep sleep. And for the pictures where she's holding something, I'd just place the hairbrush or what have you in her hand, and even though she stayed sleeping, she'd shut her hand down on the object, just like a clam closing its shell. I guess that's a normal reaction for babies."
And responding to a question about Mila's reaction to the book, she said "She loves it(phew!), but I don't think she realizes she's the baby in the pictures. She loves to point out 'the baby,' though, and some of the other items and toys she recognizes from around the house."
In a recent interview on the Today show, Ms. Enersen said that she had little professional art training, although she had always been creative and had taken art classes in high school and worked in advertising. Advising parents who would like to produce similar photos with their infants, she says fancy equipment is unnecessary. There is no need for a flash, natural light is just fine, and no need either for a fancy camera, she just used a cheap digital pocket camera; even an iPhone would do. She also added that the baby doesn't even have to be napping. She encourages parents to do what she has done, and recently organized a baby photo contest on her blog.
As for her future plans, Ms. Enersen said she continues to draw and paint and hopes to do more work with stop motion animation, citing the animated film "Coraline" as one that inspires her. She is pregnant again, expecting another child in the late spring/early summer. Currently on maternity leave from her day job as a copywriter and concept designer, she is working on another book featuring Mila, now 20 months old, to be published in early 2013. "The next book is built around a special batch of Mila's daydream photos—I never published ALL of them on my blog, so I've got plenty to choose from— that are reenactments of some of my favorite fairytales (and I really, really, really love fairytales!)." It will be called When My Baby Dreams of Fairytales, and in it "Mila makes an amazing Rapunzel. The book AFTER that is still a mystery, but I've got some ideas in the back of my mind."
As for daydream photos of Mila, she explained that she stopped taking those around the time she turned four months old because she then wasn't sleeping as deeply as she had before. "I've thought a lot about it, and I'm not sure if I'm going to photograph my next baby in the same way, but I definitely want to do something special for him/her, too. I was inspired by Mila in one direction, and will probably be inspired in some other direction by my next baby."
WHEN MY BABY DREAMS by Adele Enersen, Balzer & Bray, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2012. To view more of Mila please visit: Milasdaydreams.blogspot.com and http://www.etsy.com/blog/en/2012/when-my-baby-dreams/