Babies create strong emotions for the bearer, holder, and observer. I have discovered this holds true even when it is known the baby is not real. They are the most powerful objects I have ever worked with, I am struck by the strong and palpable emotional reactions they produce. They provoke the biological instinct to nurture and the entire spectrum of human behavior.—Rebecca Martinez
PreTenders is California-based photographer Rebecca Martinez’s fascinating series based around a subculture known as the Reborn community—a group (of mostly) women who create, collect, and love handmade dolls as if they were their own. The babies are handmade by artists and constructed to look and feel like newborn babies, their heads come weighted in a way so that they must be supported when held. They can be “adopted” from “nurseries” that sell the dolls, and can cost as much as $15,000.
The series has three components. Initially, Martinez photographed actor Carrie Fisher in scenarios inspired by the artificial babies—”haggard homemaker, a bored mother, and a beautiful, sophisticated housewife.” Moving beyond the staged photographs, Martinez spent several years documenting the Reborn community, attending their conventions, baby showers, teas, and baby beauty contests, capturing both passionate “mothers” and avid collectors of the dolls. The most recent component involves Martinez bringing the dolls into different social situations and photographing the responses of the general public, of which she says, “When I am with a “baby”, my status changes in the world, I am mother, grandmother, aunt. People take the baby and create their own narratives.”