Portraits of Women Over 40 with Their Childhood Dolls

Vera Saltzman

Sigmund Freud believed the uncanny to be something which leads us back to what is old and familiar but is at the same time “unheimlich” or uncomfortable. This series explores the idea of the uncanny as it manifests in a longing for youth, and a recognition of mortality.

Driven by the nostalgia of our lost childhood, many of us have kept our dolls: sitting on a shelf, buried in a box in a closet, locked in an attic. In these portraits, women over 40 are posed with their childhood dolls. Each doll serves as an entry point into the history of our life which is both strange and familiar. In my photographic survey I consider the rediscovery of these doll-mementos, which lead these women to recall a past of comfort and security. It’s hard to imagine a time and place when we would have played with these dolls. As young girls we spent hours with them. Our friend and confident, they kept us safe at bedtime, while comforting us during stressful times. Those days are gone forever, yet eternally present as evidenced by the doll: an assurance of a past.

These images are tinged with a sense of ‘memento mori’ – ‘remember that you are mortal.’ As I age, I am constantly reminded of life’s uncertainty. This series helps me reflect on the human condition: the transience of life and the inevitability of death.—Vera Saltzman

Vera Saltzman is a Saskatchewan, Canada based photographer whose work focuses on “issues of identity, the fragility of life and the passage of time”.

Vera Saltzman

Vera Saltzman

Vera Saltzman

Vera Saltzman


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  • Nancy Sands Owens

    What a touching tribute and such poignant images. This past year, I have taken several photos of my own mother with her baby doll. Mom, who is turning 83 this year and embraced in the battle with Alzheimer’s, has tenderly kept her large baby doll “Frances” through the mid 1930’s when she received the doll, the War Years, the busy years of marriage and raising her family, the busy retirement years with Dad and now her final years as a widow. The doll’s face has gathered lines and creases as has Mom’s, her large brown eyes with real lashes still roll open and close, her sweet two-toothed smile is still intact and her body is still soft and cuddle-some. From time to time throughout my childhood, Mom would take Frances out of her pillowcase shroud, gently cradle her and share stories of how she received Frances for her birthday. After spending many years in the trunk and somewhat forgotten, Frances is now dressed immaculately and perched in the Boston rocker opposite Mom’s recliner in the living room, where she greets her each day. Mom and I now have a project: to preserve her precious childhood memories by utilizing Frances as the catalyst. And when Mom is at last gone, I will gently cradle Frances as Mom did, and will share stories with my niece of her grandmother.

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