The stuffed animals captured in Mark Nixon’s book, Much Loved, have been treasured and lost, used and occasionally abused, but never forgotten. The idea to document these lifetime companions occurred to Nixon when he started noticing his son’s devotion to his stuffed Peter Rabbit. “I was struck by … 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 wrote in the introduction to his new book, which is published by Abrams. “I vaguely remembered having similar childhood feelings about my own Panda.”
Panda and Peter Rabbit both make an appearance in Much Loved, along with a slew of other furry friends that Nixon met through their owners after he put out a call for participants. “It is universal. It is that primal kind of emotional attachment that a lot of people have,” he said in an interview. “When you're that young, they're just a great comfort. I had no idea how much people would respond to it.”
He also had no idea that those most enthusiastic about the project would not be kids but adults and that many of the stuffed animals he would photograph would be more than 40 years old—some more than 100 years old. People’s attachment to their animals, he found, runs deep.
The book also features stories of the stuffed animals’ histories, including tales of their origins and travels. “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,” Nixon wrote.
Nixon encountered stuffed animals of all shapes and sizes and in various states of disrepair. As his project gained popularity, a man contacted Nixon who claimed to have Elvis Presley’s childhood bear. (Nixon checked it out, but it turned out to be a fake.) Nixon did eventually photograph a bear belonging to U2’s Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson, a memento of their friend Greg Carroll, who died in a car accident.
In photographing the stuffed animals, Nixon said he took inspiration from the photographer Irving Penn, whose still-life images transformed everyday objects like trash and food into art. “I just thought you could do the same thing with bears,” Nixon said. “You can take them and blow them up. It makes them iconic in a way. It gives them a presence or a gravity they don't usually have.”