They’re well-worn, falling apart and have been chewed on my moths, but after many years these stuffed animals are still treasured and never forgotten. “Much Loved,” a book by Irish photographer Mark Nixon documenting 65 teddy bears, takes a nostalgic look at the lives of our lifetime companions.
How did this project take off?
I got the idea from watching my son, Calum. I was struck by how attached he was to his Peter Rabbit, the way he buried his nose in it while sucking his thumb. I remembered having similar childhood feelings about my own panda. And so, I organized a Teddy Day at my studio, where adults and children brought in their teddies and I photographed them.
Documenting these teddies must have given you a peek into people’s childhood and memories.
Indeed, people opened up with stories about their teddies – how they had nearly lost theirs at some stage was a common theme. Some tales were hilarious: The wife of a local radio broadcaster joked, “My teddy is the third person in our marriage.” A lady in her 60s told me that when she dies her toy will be buried with her.
But other stories were sadder in tone. I received a teddy from Bono, of all people. It had belonged to a friend of his, Greg Carroll, who died in a motor accident in the 1980s. At Greg’s funeral a mate of his gave Bono a memento: Greg’s one-eared teddy bear. U2’s song “One Tree Hill” from their album “The Joshua Tree” is dedicated to Greg.
I photographed a teddy that once belonged to a child with Down syndrome who died at age 5. Tears well up in my eyes every time I read about the boy’s life.
Why do you people keep their teddy bears for so many years?
There’s something really primal about a cuddly toy. It’s the first affectionate object a child clings to after their mother. A teddy bear has that familiar smell, shape and the feel of fabric that remind us of a comforting time from childhood.