The fabric is worn, the eyes and ears got torn off, the limbs were reattached, the supposedly bloated tummy looks rumpled now because of the multiple stitching — these stuffed toys all look so battered, but they were turned into intriguing images in the Irish photographer’s Mark Nixon’s book Much Loved. Walking into Keibunsha Ichijoji bookshop, I was immediately captured by the powerful gaze of the pink teddy bear on this book cover that was found on the dark brown wooden shelf.
My travel companion owns a big collection of stuffed toys. He would even bring the ones that he is particularly attached to for travel, for a chat, or for a quiet companion on the sofa. By enjoying this kind of moments with them, I came to realize how a stuffed toy can also grow old. The marks the owners left on them are like medals to be honored, as they can well be the evidence of being loved.
It all began when Nixon witnessed the powerful affection with which his own baby son enveloped his Peter Rabbit, a gift from his 99-year-old grandmother — “the way he squeezed it with delight when he was excited, the way he buried his nose in it while sucking his thumb, and how he just had to sleep with Peter every night.” Nixon began to think, maybe everyone has this inexplicable sentiment in their childhood. He then invited people to bring their beloved stuffed toys to share their emotional stories. To his surprise, most of the people who joined the sharing were adults. “It was as though they had been keeping a long-held secret and could finally tell someone what their teddies really meant to them,” said Nixon.
Some shared sweet little memories, some talked about the fright of thinking they have lost the toy; one of them had to drive an hour back to send his little boy back his favorite toy when he received his son’s call on the way from Watford to Dublin. The stories are all funny but heartfelt. The book collects stories of 65 stuffed toys and their owners. Flipping through the pages, we can take a glimpse of people’s fascinated lives one by one.
Sometimes I wonder if we are aware of the traces of time imprinted on ourselves and people around us, but I believe these little buddies actually do recognize every tiny change that happens to us.