Does your child have a comfort object – a favoured blankie, teddy or dolly who tags along everywhere, soothes sore knees (and feelings) and whose particular presence at bedtime is an essential prerequisite for sleep?
If so, this adorable photo series will tug on your heartstrings; even – or more especially – if your little one is all grow’d up, with their long-ago ‘lovies’ just a distant memory.
Seattle photographer Anna Ream has used the relationship many children form with the inanimate as the basis for her photographic project, Comfort Objects. According to Anna, a comfort object is, “a physical link to a child’s emotional and psychological world, often bearing the stains and scars of tears and play”. And so it’s no wonder as to why these beloved ragdolls, bears and other threadbare toys make for the perfect photo-op; beneath their stitchings and tucked safely inside their stuffings, they’re filled with the narrative of a fleeting childhood, each story unique to only one special, tiny person.
Anna says while she didn’t have a comfort object when she was a child, her three children do. “Like many parents, I’ve hunted for it at bedtime, sent it along when leaving a child in another person’s care, and carefully packed it on trips. It is a conduit for meeting their emotional and psychological needs,” she says.
The children in Anna’s series include both her own and those of friends and strangers, but the objects are the thread of continuity running through the images, and “a means for the children to reveal elements of their emotional lives.” Each portrait, as such, is vivid with innocence, vulnerability, and the inarguable fact that a child’s seeking for comfort is a precious, powerful need.
Young ones’ anthropomorphising of objects is the classic reenactment of The Velveteen Rabbit’s tale; a child’s strength of belief alone imbues playthings with life and feeling. It’s the incredible power of imagination made manifest – literally.
But there are times when children’s retreat to the land of make-believe is about so much more. In developmental psychology, comfort objects are called ‘transitional objects’ and act as a substitute for the mother-child bond, helping the child navigate separation by providing a stand-in.
Even into adulthood, we regularly extract comfort from sources separate to those early parental attachments. As humans, we all possess the innate yearning for a connection, an empathic response – and in the absence of such, the inert, the material, is often our choice replacement. Or our only option.
Studies have shown that up to 70% of young children develop strong attachments to objects such as toys or blankets – a phenomenon that tends to be confined to western societies. An unsurprising statistic when ours is a culture where ‘connecting’ happens with anything and everything, but rarely humanity.
Anna’s fascination with the proxy role of comfort objects in children’s lives, and the link to motherhood in particular, was the primary source of inspiration for her compelling photo series. She explains, “The mother is where so many physical, emotional and psychological needs are met and focused.” Which is, obviously, as it should be.
But life happens. People work. Siblings demand attention. And mums and dads sometimes (desperately) need respite.
Yet the need captured by this photographer’s lens is too affecting to ignore.