“Henry was getting older at this point. We would have to do 30-second shoots, like three images and if it didn’t work, too bad. You can see in the cape image, he looks crabby. When he was little, you’d hold him up and he was automatically in flying position. But at this point he was a little boy and it was really hard to get him to look like he was calmly flying.”

Rachel Hulin’s Flying Baby Series

The photographs in Rachel Hulin’s Flying Series, in which her baby Henry appears to float in the landscape, have a dreamy, almost magical quality to them, but they started in the most pedestrian of ways: Hulin was kind of bored. A new mom who’d recently relocated from Brooklyn to Providence, Rhode Island, she says, “I was looking for a project to sink my teeth into while I was home with Henry when he was so little. I was trying figure out motherhood and the whole thing seemed so weird to me.” A former blogger and photo editor who’d spent the better part of nine years constantly looking at pictures, she was aware of a genre of photos called “floaters” and was interested in the figure in landscape as well — “finding a beautiful scene and somehow making it more personal by putting someone you love in it,” she says. She never expected to do a floating series of her own, but once she did one photo, she was kind of hooked. “Partly it was being in a new city, trying to find special places with a baby,” she says. “It was a nice thing to do together. It became what we did in the afternoons.”

Hulin first stuck close to home; she lives with her husband and Henry in a 100-year-old former seltzer bottle factory, which offered plenty of fodder. But eventually they ventured out into the world: the RISD library, a barn in Vermont, her in-laws’ house in Long Island. Though she was typically reluctant to post pictures of Henry on Facebook, she began uploading them to gauge crowd reaction. Her friends went nuts over them; one of those friends just happened to be a photo editor at Time. After they went up on Time’s photography blog, the photos went completely viral. (A conversation by phone with Kathie Lee and Hoda Kotb on The Today Show was one of the more surreal moments.)

“The pictures went up on Time at a point when the project was still very new to me and very partially formed,” says Hulin. “I didn’t want Henry to become an internet meme. It felt sad to me that it would become a hit on Buzzfeed and nothing more. So I started to think about how I could use the Internet attention for good and not evil. I pitched it around a little bit, and PowerHouse Books was into the idea of making it into a children’s book. I may have stopped making them or made a few more at that point but instead the project took on this whole new life.”

Flying Henry came out earlier this year, and in this slideshow, Hulin shows us how she took it from a personal project to a children’s book that’s already sold out its first run. Of the response she’s had, she says, “Kids liked it; they were super into the narrative and totally accepted that a baby would fly. One kid asked Henry how he made his daddy disappear, which I thought was very high concept.” As for her own son, she says: “Henry totally doesn’t ask for the book. I think he’s more into schoolbuses.”