email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
1000 Families2 ¼32 Stories365 Days51 Months5x7A Child's Life and Other StoriesA Couple of Ways of Doing SomethingA Lifetime of SecretsA Storybook LifeA Treasury of Victorian MurderActing OutAddiction and ArtAEIOUAfter PhotographyAliveAlive with Alzheimer'sAlone Together POCAltered StatesAmazing WomenAmelia's WorldAmerica at HomeAmerican AlphabetsAmnesiaAn American LensAn Exact MindAngel's WorldAngry Youth Comix #2Anjos ProibidosAnthony GoicoleaArchitecture of AuthorityArt After Conceptual ArtArt and HomosexualityArt and PhotographyArt in Three DimensionsArt Photography NowArt, Self and KnowledgeArt/PornAs We AreAsylumAttitudeAutoportraitBecoming Edvard MunchBeg the QuestionBelugaBerkoBig Rabbit's Bad MoodBill HensonBlab!Blab! 13BLAB! Vol. 14BLAB! Vol. 15BlanketsBoneyardBoneyardBoy StoriesBreakdownsBright EarthBrüselBurn, Bitchy, BurnBus OdysseyBut Is It Art?CanvasCaricatureChildrenChris VereneChristy ReportCinema PanopticumClass PicturesClick DoubleclickCloserClumsyClyde Fans CoincidencesComing of AgeComing of Age in Ancient GreeceConceptual Art and PaintingConfessions of a Cereal EaterConsider LoveCouch FictionCrumpleCzech EdenCzech Photographic Avant-Garde, 1918-1948Dan & LarryDargerDays With My FatherDead EndDear MomDeus Ex MachinaDigital DiariesDirty StoriesDisasters of WarDixie RoadDomestic VacationsDon't Go Where I Can't FollowDon't You Feel BetterDr. Jekyll & Mr. HydeDrawingsDriftlessEarly ExposuresEcstasyEdouard VuillardEnduring CreationEngland, My EnglandEntering GermanyEpilepticErwin OlafEscape from "Special"EVAEverything Will DisappearEvidenceExploring the Self through PhotographyExposureExpressionism Exquisite CorpseFamilyFamilyFamily LifeFandomaniaFaster than a Speeding BulletFictionsFigure and GroundFragile DVDFred the ClownFreud at WorkFridaFrom Girls to GrrlzFun HomeGeneration DadaGirl CultureGirls, Some Boys and Other CookiesGoing Into TownGood-ByeGraphic WomenGrave MattersGreat Hiking Trails of the WorldH R GigerHans BellmerHappy Halloween, Li'L SantaHauntedHere Is New YorkHey, Wait...High Art LiteHollywood CowboyHouse of JavaHow Art WorksI Am Not This BodyI Love You But I've Chosen RockI Thought I Could FlyI'll Be Your MirrorI'm CrazyIllumineIn My Darkest HourIn Search Of DignityIn the Floyd ArchivesIn the Line of DutyInformation ArtsIntenseInvisible No MoreIt Was A Dark And Silly NightJack Cole and Plastic ManJimmy CorriganJock SturgesJock SturgesJust Between UsKafkaKatharina SieverdingLacan at the SceneLaura Numeroff's 10-Step Guide to Living with Your MonsterLife's a BitchLight in the Dark RoomLine of Beauty and GraceListening to CementLittle LitLi’l SantaLoadsLooking For MayaLost GirlLouis FaurerLouise BourgeoisLove and DesireLove Lust DesireLuckyManufactured LandscapesMass ObservationMaster BreastsMetacreationMisty DawnMnemosyneMomeMona KuhnMy Brain is Hanging Upside DownMy DepressionMy Family AlbumNatural BeautiesNatural BeautyNerveNerveNew and Used BLAB!New York September 11Night FisherNightswimmingNo More ShavesNot My ShameNotes from a DefeatistNothing ObviousNothing to HideNudes and PortraitsOliviaOlivia Saves the CircusOn City StreetsOne EyeOnly a Promise of HappinessOptic NerveOptic Nerve #11Optic Nerve #9Outlaws, Rebels, Freethinkers & PiratesOutsider ArtOutsider Art and Art TherapyPanic at Toad HallPatrolPaul M. SmithPeculiaPeekPeople Love PhotosPerfect ExamplePersepolisPhilosophersPhonesexPhoto ArtPhoto Icons I (1827-1926)Photographers, Writers, and the American ScenePhotography and LiteraturePhotography and PhilosophyPhotography and SciencePhotography and the USA Photography RebornPicturing DisabilityPlaytimePOPismPortraits of ResiliencePostmodernismPsychedelicQuestions without answersRaptors Raw YouthRay's a LaughRazmatazReclining NudeRed SnowRemembering GeorgyRequisite DistanceRineke DijkstraRippleRobert Doisneau 1912-1994Robert MaxwellRoom to PlayRXSame Difference & Other StoriesSanctumSatan's Sex BookSatellitesSchizophreniaSee Me Feel MeSelf-Taught and Outsider ArtSexSexual ArtSexyBookShadow ChamberSidewalk StoriesSkin DeepSleepwalkSmall FavorsSmile of the BuddhaSpectral EvidenceSpentSshhhh!Stranded in CantonStrange Stories for Strange Kids Stranger PassingStripped BareSummer BlondeSurrealismSymbols in ArtTestimonyThe Aesthetics of DisengagementThe AlcoholicThe Art InstinctThe Art of Adolf WolfliThe Art of MedicineThe BabiesThe Birthday RiotsThe Blue Day BookThe Blue NotebookThe BodyThe Body as ProtestThe Boulevard of Broken DreamsThe Breast BookThe Breathing FieldThe Bristol Board JungleThe Clouds AboveThe Devil and Daniel JohnstonThe Diary of a Teenage GirlThe Education of SophieThe Erotic Lives of WomenThe Face in the LensThe Illustrated Story of OThe Incantations of Daniel JohnstonThe Madonna of the FutureThe Mirror of LoveThe New Erotic PhotographyThe New LifeThe Other PlaceThe PervertThe Philosophy of Andy WarholThe Places We LiveThe Psychology of Art and the Evolution of the Conscious BrainThe Push Man and Other StoriesThe Scar of VisibilityThe September 11 Photo ProjectThe Shiniest JewelThe Speed AbaterThe Steerage and Alfred StieglitzThe Story of Frog Belly Rat BoneThe Story of SexThe Stuff of LifeThe Three ParadoxesThe Transformations of GwenThe Transformations of GwenThe Transparent CityThe TravelersThe ValleyThe Van Gogh BluesThe Wolves in the WallsThe Yellow HouseThinThings as They AreThinking of YouTierney GearonTime and SilenceTina's MouthTits, Ass, and Real EstateTransitionTrauma and Documentary Photography of the FSATravelersTropical BlendTwentieth Century EightballTwilightUnlikelyVagina WarriorsVernacular VisionariesVietnam At PeaceVisual CultureVitamin PhWar Is Only Half the StoryWhat Are You Looking At?What Art IsWhat Good Are the Arts?What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally MannWho Am I, What Am I, Where Am I?Why Comics?William KentridgeWillie DohertyWithWriters on ArtistsYoung PhotographerZip Zip My Brain Harts
There are some books that I want to review, and I pester and plead
with publishers to send review copies. Then there are other books
that I get sent, which stay on my shelves for months because I
do not have the time or inclination to read them and I cannot
find anyone else to review them either. This book falls in the
latter category. Indeed, I might not have reviewed this book at
all if it were not for the fact that Susan Sontag wrote an introductory
essay and it is published by powerHouse books,
an interesting publisher that has many great books in its catalog.
I'm not usually put off by sexually-themed books - indeed, I plan
to review a wide range of photography books in the next few months
that many readers will consider beyond the pail. But The Babies
is a collection of photographs of adult men who derive sexual
pleasure from dressing and acting as babies. I'm not sure if they
get pleasure from viewing photographs of other men dressed as
babies -- I imagine some do. But this is not a work of pornography;
rather it is more journalism or documenting. But this is neither
a scientific recording of perversion, nor an exposé of
the shocking truth of what goes on in the suburbs. Rather, it
is an inquisitive and magnanimous look at these men, very open
in its attitude towards them.
Polly Borland explains at the end of the book that after doing
a feature story for a British newspaper on Adult Babies, she decided
to "embark on a photographic journey" to explore the
topic more. She soon realized that it is an international phenomenon.
Some men chose to dress as boy babies, some as girl babies; some
are into bondage and punishment; some prefer to be newborn babies,
while others prefer one, two or three years old. Not all of them
are into wetting themselves or defecating. Most of the men say
they felt unloved as children, and because of the isolation they
felt in their Adult Babyhood activities, they continued to feel
neglected. But with the Internet, Adult Babies around the world
are able to communicate with each other. (Of course, the same
is true for many other people with unusual ways of expressing
It is of course interesting to speculate what leads adult men
to behave in this way - certainly just feeling neglected as a
child is not a sufficient explanation. But these pictures do not
aim to explain the behavior, simply to show it. Borland managed
to win the trust of her subjects so that they felt comfortable
enough to let her photograph them in their Babyhood. I wonder
how it felt for her taking these pictures; if my discomfort in
viewing them is any indication, it must have been a difficult
There is something profoundly strange in seeing grown men dress
up in romper suits, sit in strollers, sucking on pacifiers, wearing
large diapers, and silky night-dresses with pink bows. Without
wishing to be needlessly judgmental, I have to say I find it far
more grotesque than pictures of bondage gear and shiny leather.
How bizarre that a rather simple regression to the age of talcum
powder and diaper rashes is more disturbing than the excitement
of domination and pain, but my guess is that my reaction will
be shared by most of those who open these pages. I wonder whether
there is a gender difference here - maybe women will experience
less discomfort in seeing these images, and maybe there is something
about them that threatens deeply held notions of masculinity.
But then again, I suspect that I'd have similar reactions on seeing
middle-aged women dressed up as babies in adult diapers, pacifiers,
and pink or blue bonnets.
I imagine that most people experience some pleasures of regression;
I know I do occasionally. Rediscovering old toys, old comics,
food that one enjoyed as a child can be fun; sometimes playing
with children, one can experience the fun and playfulness one
had as a child, pulling faces, making silly sounds, chasing and
even wrestling can be enjoyable too. (I'll personally admit to
recently enjoying reading and reviewing many children's books.)
In a different form of regression, it's a common observation that
adult couples newly in love can sometimes have that kind of playfulness,
even if it can be obnoxious if they engage in it in public.
Doubtless one of the reasons that Adult Babies may be disturbing
is the fact that they get some sexual pleasure from their activities,
and maybe some would worry about having these men playing with
their babies, so it is worth stressing that nothing in this book
even hints that there is any connection between infantilism and
pedophilia. They seem to be entirely distinct phenomena. Although
we genitalia in some of these images, and in a couple of them
the men are sexually aroused, the focus here is not on sexuality,
but rather on dressing up and playing. In fact, one of the most
disturbing pictures for me is entirely non-sexual; "Snuggles
in Mummy Hazel's garden" is set in a back yard of someone's
house in Britain; a large man, dressed up in pink and white, wearing
a bonnet, mittens, a large nightdress, white socks and pink sandals
is on a rocking horse, presumably specially constructed to be
large enough for an adult. Maybe what is especially striking here
is that he is willing to be seen not just by the photographer,
but also by people in adjoining houses who have an open view of
him. I would die of embarrassment if it were me.
In these pictures by Borland, we know very little about the men
apart from the names they take as babies and what country they
live in; pictures were taken in Britain, Australia, and California.
So there's little context to these images, and presumably this
was a deliberate choice. It would have been possible to accompany
the pictures with interviews with Adult Babies, explanations by
them of their preferences, or even discussions by psychiatrists
of this sort activity. Instead, the short texts that precede and
follow the pictures are short pieces by Susan Sontag, editor Mark
Holborn, and Borland herself. Sontag wonders whether the babies
are "really unattractive" and points out that there's
a great difference between these subjects and those in Roger Ballen's
which shows whites in rural South Africa; the implication here
is that "adult babies" are not evil, even if they are
rather sad or pathetic.
It's hard to know how to assess these pictures; they certainly
provoke a variety of emotional reactions, including curiosity,
discomfort, and amusement. Some may be disgusted, others may
be aroused. Ultimately, I'm not convinced that these images provide
much insight into the world of infantalism, but they do at least
remind us, if we needed reminding, of the wide range of different
sorts of sexuality.
Links: (warning - these are to adult sites and can lead a profusion
of unwanted pop-up ads)
© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.
Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College,
Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review.
His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry.
He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can
play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster
communication between philosophers, mental health professionals,
and the general public.