Much Loved started as a very simple idea: to photograph some “loved to bits” teddy bears for an exhibition in my studio, which happily has a gallery space.
I got the idea from watching my son, Calum. I was struck by how attached he was to his Peter Rabbit, 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. Something about this awakened some very old, deeply buried memories and feelings of my own childhood Panda.
The photographer I admire the most is Irving Penn. His portrait work, from the 1940s and 1950s especially, made me want to become a photographer. With his still-life work, I loved the alchemy of his Street Material series, how he could take works of trash and cigarette butts off the street, photograph them, and turn them into pieces of art. The idea of making an everyday object, something so familiar that it’s invisible, become visible again appealed to me.
So, I put the call out for people to bring in their much-loved teddies, the
more loved, unwashed, and falling apart the better, to be photographed. I expected it to be mostly children, but it soon became apparent that the idea appealed very much to adults, and that many of them were still very attached to their teddies. It was as though they had been keeping a long-held secret and could finally tell someone what their teddies really meant to them.
Their strength of feeling took me by surprise. While waiting, they would
tell some usually funny story about their teddy (how they had nearly lost it at some stage was a common theme), or would speak emotionally about what it meant to them. So the stories and memories became integral to the photographs, adding significance to them and bringing them to life.