Who and what we fall in love with comes in many forms. This series is the latest incarnation of my work that explores different aspects of artifice and our impulses to create illusionary objects and situations that fulfill various emotional, spiritual, psychological and therapeutic needs.
Babies create strong emotions for the bearer, holder, and observer. This holds true even when it is known the baby is not real. For several years I have been photographing a subculture of women who create, adopt and love dolls that look as close as possible to real babies. The dolls appear and feel in ones arms to be living infants. They create strong and palpable emotional reactions and provoke the biological instinct to nurture and the entire spectrum of human behavior. I call this work preTenders as one “pretends” that these dolls are real, one “tends” to the babies and there are “tender” feelings involved.
Many of the women involved have an especially strong passion for the stage of mothering babies and this is a method to keep it permanently in their lives. There is a wide range of personal stories and motivations for being involved in this community. Some create or collect these dolls because they cannot continue to give birth to living babies, or have lost a child, or cannot have one of their own. Some women admire the art form and are doll collectors, others create nurseries in their homes and integrate the babies as part of their families and lives.
For several years I have been attending their conventions and events such as baby showers, teas, and baby beauty contests. At the conventions one can adopt babies, purchase baby clothes and accessories, and attend the various social gatherings that focuses on sharing and admiring each mother’s babies.
As I have gotten to know individuals, I turned my focus to intimate portraits. I photographed the babies with their families in their homes and at the artists studios where they are created. I also photographed the families with their real and not real children in a style reminiscent of a studio visit that a family would seek for a traditional portrait.
There is now a new and compelling usage of these artificial babies, in this context they are called "serenity babies." It has been discovered they have tremendous therapeutic benefits to alzheimers and dementia patients. I visited several facilities and saw remarkable responses from patients when these dolls were placed in both women and men’s arms. These dolls brought forth deep nurturing instincts, great comfort, joy and have a calming effect.
I have observed that people outside these communities including those who scoff at these hyper-realistic dolls change when they hold them. Their bodies respond without them being conscious of this. They will rock and hold them protectively as if they are real. When they become aware of what their bodies are doing they are taken aback and often embarrassed.
These dolls are the most powerful objects I have ever photographed.