“When you see these teddy bears and bunnies with missing noses and undone stuffing, you can’t help but think back to childhood and its earliest companions who asked for nothing and gave a lot back.”
– Mark Nixon, 2013
Dublin-based portrait photographer Mark Nixon has captured the essence of teddy bears in Much Loved, a series of portraits of love-worn stuffed toys we held tight, adored and shared our young lives with.
“I got the initial idea after seeing how close my son Calum was to his Peter Rabbit, says Mark. “Something about this awakened some very old, deeply buried memories and feelings of my own childhood Panda. I couldn’t quite explain what I was feeling about all this, then out pored this poem, which was a little embarrassing, as I don’t write poetry and never have, but it was the only way I could express it. I’ve been getting lots of great comments about the poem as well as unbelievable responses to the book.”
You can read Mark’s poem further below.
I had a Teddy Day in my studio and sent out a call to all my clients to bring their teddies in. I thought it would be mostly children, but to my surprise, it was mainly adults, and mostly women. As I was photographing the bears, they would tell my receptionist some story about their bear, so I got her to write them down and they became integral to the whole project, as the stories really bring the images to life…
I approached this like a portrait shoot and although I photographed them pretty much the same way, each felt different and very much like a portrait shoot, where I would try to find the best way to photograph them.
I know it sounds funny, but It felt like they were communicating with me and that we collaborated together on the shoot. There was a beginning, middle, and an end to each session, some took longer than others, so it didn’t feel that much different to what I always do, which is start with a nervous feeling that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, go through a process and arrive at the end with images I’m happy with to some degree. It began as a still life project, not something I usually do, but it changed into portraiture very quickly.
Pink Teddy was born on Christmas Day 1988, when I was six months old. Back then, he was bright pink with a red waistcoat, and we were instantly inseparable. We have been apart for only a few nights since.
“A lady telephoned me at the Dolls Hospital and said she had a dilemma. She explained she possessed a very old teddy bear, which had belonged to her father in the early 1900s, that she loved dearly. But she was getting old herself and could see trouble ahead. It was of grave concern to her that her two sons might fall out over this teddy bear. Both had played with Edward as children and both wanted him. I told her to bring the bear in to me and we could have a chat. I identified the style and age of the bear. He was a Steiff bear from 1909 – and this fact was going to play a part in the brothers falling out, because of his perceived value.”
When everything was unknown, they were there.
Where anything could happen, they were there.
These repositories of hugs, of fears, of hopes, of tears, of snots and smears.
Alone at night, they were the comforters, when monsters lurked in darkened corners, when raised voices muffled through floors and walls.
These silent witnesses, these constant companions, defenders of innocence.
Their touch, yes, but their smell, that instantly calming, all embalming musk, unique to each, soothing and smoothing the journey from consciousness to un, from purity to im, from infancy to adult-terre.
Sworn to secrecy, unconditionally there, unjudgementally fair and almost always a bear.
I think I only ever called him Panda. I remember clearly snuggling up with him in bed as a child, which is probably why watching my son, Calum, with his teddy, spurred me on to starting this project. As my interests were focused elsewhere (girls & music mostly) Panda spent many years on top of the wardrobe in the spare room of my mother’s house, from there to a cardboard box in her attic and finally the box with the ultimatum,: take it with you or it’s going in the bin. So he joined the scores of other soft toys belonging to my children, ending up in a trunk in the spare room. I have just taken him out of the trunk to photograph him for this; he smells a bit musty but I have decided to keep him beside my computer in my studio while I work.
Peter Rabbit was the inspiration for this project. Calum’s 99-year-old great-grandmother Eva bought Peter for Calum when he was born and he has slept with him every night ever since. Great Granny knew what she was doing; Peter stuck.
Gerry took to carrying him around as an adult, after watching Brideshead Revisited, and renamed him Aloysius. He often spoke of him on the radio show he hosted for 22 years. There is still a trace of lipstick visible that Gerry’s mother Maureen applied at one point. Since Gerry’s sudden passing in 2010, One Eyed Ted is being cared for by Gerry’s daughter Babette.
Teddy Tingley belonged to my oldest brother, who gave him to me the day I was born. I remember when I was three years old, we were heading off on holiday by train. As the train started moving, I glanced out the window to see, to my horror, Teddy sitting on a bundle of my comics left on the station platform. Thanks to my mum roaring out the window (“The teddy! The teddy! I just want the teddy!”) some kind person picked up Teddy and ran with him as the train picked up speed, reaching up to the window just in time for Mum to grab him.
Floppy has gone everywhere with Eve from the time she was able to hold him. She rubs his paw on her nose and lips as she sucks her thumb. He makes her feel safe and sleepy. One day Floppy fell out of the buggy in the park when Eve fell asleep. My husband Michael hardly slept that night, Eve was so upset. He got up at some unearthly hour and was standing at the gates of the park when it opened at 7am. He searched everywhere and in desperation tried all the bins. He says that apart from his wedding day and the birth of the kids, it was the happiest moment of his life when he found Floppy in that bin.
Margaret’s dad bought Teddy for her as a baby. He was her constant companion and she slept with him until she was 21 when she got married. She hid him in her suitcase on her honeymoon. Teddy now sits on a shelf with her hubby’s teddy dog. She says Teddy has been everywhere with her and will also be buried with her.
This is a heroic teddy bear who comforted my late husband, Steve Goto. Steve had suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm and subsequent stroke. During his time in the hospital, Steve hugged this bear so fiercely that no one could take it away from him. Steve died on 20 April, 2002, but the bear remains with me. This bear spent long nights in the hospital with Steve when I couldn’t be there.
Daragh’s father was given a pound from his parents for his birthday and he bought Teddy Moore for Daragh. Under his hat and clothes, Teddy Moore is held together with tights. Although he looks like he was in a fire, in Daragh’s own words, she kissed the fur off him. He lives in the locker beside her bed: she doesn’t like him sleeping in the bed in case he gets smothered.
Would you like to support Flashbak?
Please consider making a donation to our site. We don't want to rely on ads to bring you the best of visual culture. You can also support us by signing up to our Mailing List. And you can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For great art and culture delivered to your door, visit our shop.