We all had a teddybear. No? Then surely a rabbit or monkey, or perhaps some other stuffed animal you squeezed with loving delight? Mark Nixon, an Irish photographer, set about photographing a series of stuffed animals in his new book, Much Loved. An extremely endearing project that’s twofold charming, its universal appeal lies in Nixon’s ability to capture a notion that anybody and everybody can identify with: childhood.
Take a moment to think about your teddy bear. You probably had many stuffed animals but amongst the pile of fluff, there had to have been one. The one. For me, he was “Smith Withers,” a gentleman teddy, complete with spectacles, plaid scarf, and imagined British accent. I never felt alone nor any adventure too large with Smith Withers by my side (as he always was).
Teddybears are unequivocally linked to childhood. Psychologists refer to them as “transitional objects,” aiding in the inevitable separation from our mothers without feels of insecurity or lonesomeness. It is out of this that Nixon stumbled onto something much larger than just an exercise in photography.
Much Loved began with “Peter Rabbit,” a gift from Nixon’s 99-year-old grandmother to his son. Inspired by his son’s adoration, Nixon put out a call to whomever, asking the public to bring their beloved bears to his studio. Expecting mostly children, those that showed up were primarily adults. And Teddies weren’t all that they brought, as Nixon discovered each was eager to share the emotional memories and stories associated with their bears.
Nixon writes, “It was as though they had been keeping a long-held secret and could finally tell someone what their teddies really meant to them… So the stories and memories became integral to the photographs, adding significance to them and bringing them to life.” Nixon’s reworking demonstrates the necessity to adapt in our creative pursuits. Flexibility is sometimes able to produce the best results.
Fuelled by his appreciation for legendary photographer, Irving Penn, Nixon set about capturing these inanimate objects in a different light. Nixon’s simplicity allows his subjects to shine and speak volumes in their own right. Without even reading the stories, it’s astounding how “human” some of these teddy bears look.
Some exude joy and happiness while others carry forth sorrow and sadness, perhaps contempt with their owners’ entry into adulthood. For that is the most heartbreaking thing about Much Loved, it’s a poignant portrayal of the transition we have all gone through exiting childhood and of the silent friends that stood beside us along the way. Some still have their childhood friends, others just memories, whichever the case, Nixon’s exploration awakens a yearning to go back to childhood and that sometimes being childish isn’t all that childish.
Much Loved is available now and features 65 colored images and accompanying stories.