Reborn dolls are on display at a dolls show in Brentwood, England.
When Karolina Jonderko held a reborn doll in her hand for the first time, she was amazed at how lifelike it was.
Not only did it look like a newborn baby, it felt like one too. It was as hard as a baby should be. She had to support his neck like a baby. It even smelled like a baby.
“My mind was overwhelmed,” said Jonderko, a Poland-based photographer. “It really feels real.”
These dolls, made by artists around the world, can cost hundreds and sometimes even thousands of dollars. Made of vinyl or silicone, they can have realistic features such as veins, pores, tears, and saliva. Some even have systems that mimic breathing and a beating heart.
Most of the people who own these dolls are collectors. But for some, Jonderko said, the dolls appear to have therapeutic benefits. She started her photo project “Reborn” to focus on this strong emotional response.
One of her subjects, Katarzyna, was given a doll after a miscarriage.
“Even though she had four other children and of course loves them, she had this emptiness in her,” Jonderko recalled. “She said to leave the hospital with a baby in her hands. She started surfing the internet looking for ways to deal with this loss and found the dolls. And so her doll became part of the family. “
Jonderko’s photos of the family show how they take the doll with them wherever they go, including in the park and on vacation.
Katarzyna holds her reborn doll, which she “adopted” after a miscarriage.
One of Katarzyna’s children is holding the doll in the stroller.
Katarzyna’s children treated the doll as part of the family.
Katarzyna’s eldest son lies next to the doll during a beach trip in Sianozety, Poland.
Barbara Smolinska originally bought a reborn doll as a birthday present for her daughter. But when she saw it in person, she decided to keep it to herself.
“I felt so peaceful and relaxed every time I held her,” said Smolinska.
She said the doll helped her cope with stress and overcome an eating disorder.
“When I feel weak, I just hold my doll or move it and take pictures of it and all my problems and bad feelings go away,” said Smolinska. “It really helps.”
She is now a reborn artist herself, one of the most famous in Poland, and she even has a reborn “kindergarten” where she fixes other people’s dolls.
“I can see how great it is to help my clients who have lost their children, or who are unable to have children, or who are depressed,” she said. “My clients always come back to me and say how much these dolls help them.”
Smolinska is preparing a doll’s head. Each hair is inserted separately with a tiny needle before the finished head is attached to the body.
A doll is baked in an oven to set the special color on the vinyl. Depending on the order, it can take up to two weeks for Smolinska to produce a doll.
Smolinska paints part of the belly of a doll.
A doll can be seen in Smolinska’s “Kindergarten”, where she also carries out repairs. She made it look like a real hospital treating babies.
A Smolinska customer, Ewa, lost her boy after just 18 days. Smolinska modeled a doll for him based on a photo.
“Since I got the doll, I haven’t thought about suicide,” Ewa said to Jonderko last year.
Ewa and her partner are now adopting a real baby and the doll has been sold.
“The doll helped her a little bit, being a wrong mother, and it helped her a lot,” said Jonderko. “She needed that back then.”
Not everyone is in love with reborn dolls. Realism can rub something wrong.
“There are some people who hate them, dislike them, or find them annoying,” said Jonderko. It’s the “scary valley” concept that we often see in robots: when an artificial being becomes more like a human, it can put people off.
Smolinska has also seen the dolls make people uncomfortable, but she and Jonderko said most of their experiences were positive.
“Most people are really intrigued,” said Jonderko. “You don’t react like this, ‘Oh my god, what is this? That’s awful. ‘But they are fascinated by how precise they look. You have been deceived. They thought it was a real child. “
This realism can have some drawbacks at times.
“Once we had a situation on a bus when a girl fell out of a girl’s hands,” said Jonderko. “The whole bus started screaming and the driver stopped the bus. People dialed 911 for help. We had to explain that it was just a doll and walk around the bus to show that it was just a doll. “
Jonderko has also heard of a few incidents where a doll was left on a car seat and the police or someone else broke the glass thinking it was a real baby in need.
“The women know you have to be careful because (the doll) only looks like a sleeping baby,” she said.
Smolinska started a Facebook group for reborn doll lovers in Poland seven years ago. They meet in person three or four times a year and bring their dolls with them.
When the doll lovers gathered in a restaurant, there was only one high chair. So the rest of the dolls stayed on the floor, confusing some of the other customers.
A doll stands in front of a building in Olesnica.
Smolinska packs her doll in a suitcase because she didn’t want to worry the people on the bus.
Even Jonderko, who photographed so many reborn dolls, can be fooled from time to time.
“Now when I see a sleeping baby sometimes I wonder if it’s real or fake,” she said with a laugh. “Especially when I went to a reborn mass in England and a real baby slept there. Most of the people at the fair thought it was a doll because it slept so peacefully. They went around and said, “I want to buy this one!” ”
And if you hold a reborn doll in your hand, said Jonderko, your mind can play tricks on you.
“I did some experiments with my friends because (Smolinska) gave me one of their dolls,” she said. “In the beginning people were like that, it’s weird. But when we started talking about anything, they started patting the doll on the back or laying it on its legs and shaking to calm ‘the baby’. I would tell them, “Look what you are doing now!” It is amazing that we humans do these things unconsciously. “
Jonderko hopes her photos can remove the stigma that can be attached to the dolls and the people they belong to. She has seen firsthand how they have helped women like Magda.
Magda had a doll for seven years. She and her husband had problems conceiving.
Two months after Jonderko photographed her, Magda said she was pregnant. She gave birth to a baby boy and the doll ended up in a closet. It was no longer needed.
“We laughed because she had the cot and all the space for the doll for a little girl,” said Jonderko. “And she had a little boy, so she had to exchange everything, sell everything and buy new things.”
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