By anyone's standards, Wengenn Liao enjoyed a pretty remarkable first year. The Tracy baby flew on a trapeze, scrambled up a tower to rescue Rapunzel, plucked a few stars out of the sky and ventured to the fabled land of Lilliput. He even managed to stop in Washington and nail an exclusive with President Barack Obama.
Wengenn went on all sorts of adventures, in fact -- while taking his afternoon nap. Needless to say, his mother, freelance artist Sioin Queenie Liao, had an unusual idea of what naptime meant in her home. Once Wengenn was asleep, Liao would lay her youngest son down in the middle of a fantastical tableau she'd created on her living room floor using a bed sheet, toys, stuffed animals and household objects. Then she would begin to snap away.
By the time he'd turned 1, Liao photographed him in more than 100 scenes that evoke the imaginative worlds of children's storybooks.
"It was the best way to show my love, and it's a wonderful way to keep track of his growth," says Liao, who was a children's book illustrator before becoming a full-time mom to Wengenn and his two older brothers. "I take a lot of pictures because they grow so fast."
As with a small number of clever and creative parent projects, Liao's photos have garnered renown among mommy bloggers and interviews with various media outlets including the BBC. Her photos can be found online at her website, Wengenn in Wonderland, (http://wengenninwonderland.com). She has already collected them into a book published in Asia. She hopes to soon produce an English-language version for U.S. fans.
With her photos of Wengenn, Liao joins a growing number of parents finding new and unusual ways to photograph their children. Among them, the sleeping child photo represents a distinct genre -- witness the beatifically lit newborns curled up in feather-lined baskets, now popular with many Bay Area commercial photographers and sometimes emulated by parents. Perhaps best known is Santa Cruz mom Jessica Shyba who won social media and morning TV show fame this past fall when she posted to Instagram photos of her toddler son sleeping with the family's rescue puppy.
Then there are the parents who shoot photos of their kids -- wide awake -- as favorite TV, film and other factional characters. Fairfield photographer Karen Abad (www.karenabad.com) has photographed friends' kids dressed up as Daenerys Targaryen from "Game of Thrones" and the stars of "True Detective." And who knows where the trend will go once "Neighbors" -- a Seth Rogen-Rose Byrne comedy in which they dress up their daughter as Bryan Cranston's Heisenberg alter ego from "Breaking Bad" among other characters -- arrives in the cineplex in May?
Liao's inspirations are less edgy. She grew up immersing herself in fairy tales, and she studied literature in college while also painting and drawing. She and her husband, Sen-Ben Liao, a physicist at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, moved to Tracy nine years ago.
When Wengenn was born in March 2010, Liao discovered the "Mila's Daydream" photos by Finnish artist and mother Adele Enersen, who also presents her sleeping daughter in storybook backdrops. Like Enersen, Liao was inspired by the stylized baby photos of Australian photographer Anne Geddes.
Liao began photographing Wengenn when he was 5 months old. It helped that he went down for naps easily.
"He was also a sound sleeper," she says. "Otherwise, I couldn't have finished."
Preparation was key. Liao worked out scenes ahead of time in her head or on a sketch pad, typically setting up a scene in the morning before Wengenn's nap.
Now almost 4, Wengenn is still his mom's model but likes to be photographed wide awake. His big brothers, Wentinn, 11, and Wenlun, 6, have also gotten into the act, sometimes supplying their mother with ideas -- as in letting them pose as characters from their favorite "Super Mario Bros.". video game.
Of all the photos Liao took of Wengenn, her favorite shows him posed as if he is a climbing a ladder through a soft blue sky and fluffy clouds to catch a star.
"The star catcher reflects my dreams and hopes for my baby," she says. "I want to see him growing and reaching his dreams like that."
WHILE BABY SLEEps
Inspired? Here are some tips from Sioin Queenie Liao:
GOT CUTE KID PHOTOS?
Maybe you, too, have found creative and unusual ways to photograph your kids' precious moments. Whatever your approach, we'd love to consider them for an online slideshow. Email photos in the JPEG format 400 KB or larger to Martha Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your phone number or other contact information. If you want, explain your process or any background on how you captured the magic moment.