An Unexpected Encounter on the Streets


Peter Pickering

5/25/20243 min read

This weekend, as I roamed the city streets with my camera, I found myself in a familiar routine—waiting for that perfect moment to capture something truly extraordinary. After an hour of uneventful strolling, I noticed a street performer setting up. Street performances often offer rich material for photography, and this one was no different, except for one thing: I recognised the performer.

An Unexpected Encounter on the Streets

It was Mickey J, a talented street artist I had photographed a lifetime ago at the Fremantle Markets. I approached him, and we had a brief chat, reminiscing about the old days, and lamented the suicide in 2014 of another well-known local street performer, Matthew “The Blade” Henshaw, who found life’s challenges too much to bear. Mickey’s schedule was tight due to regulated performance times, so after our conversation, I bid my farewell.

As I turned to leave, I noticed a lady with a pushchair, patiently waiting for the performance to start. The baby she held had striking features that made me think, “My goodness, this baby looks just like her mum!” Intrigued by the almost otherworldly appearance of the baby, I introduced myself, only to discover that the baby was, in fact, a lifelike doll.

This unexpected revelation had become quite a surreal encounter. The lady explained that she had several dolls because she could not have children of her own. She was accompanied by her mother and daughter, both with pushchairs carrying the other lifelike dolls. She even had a bottle of milk in the pushchair, ready for feeding time. Curious, I asked about nappy changing—not sarcastically, mind you—and she affirmed that all the babies needed regular changing. She then asked if I’d like to hold one, and I thought, why not? She explained that the weight of each baby matched its apparent age, and it sure did. It felt quite real. Our conversation delved into her reasons for having the dolls, which were deeply personal and heartfelt, and so I won’t breach the trust she afforded me by going into details.

Despite the initial shock, I realised that these dolls brought her an immense sense of comfort and joy. For her, they were more than just lifelike representations; they were a vital coping mechanism, a way to navigate the complexities and challenges of her life. The dolls offered her a semblance of the maternal experience she longed for, filling a void that circumstances had unfairly imposed upon her.

As we talked, her openness about her situation and her willingness to share such personal details created a profound and meaningful connection between us. It was a stark reminder that everyone has their own struggles and unique ways of coping. What might seem unusual or even eccentric to some can hold profound significance and provide solace to others. Her story, while deeply personal, underscored a universal truth: that beneath the surface, everyone is dealing with their own battles, often finding comfort in ways that might not be immediately understood by others.

Her candidness was not just a reflection of her trust but also a testament to her resilience. In a world quick to judge, she found strength in her unconventional approach to healing, demonstrating that there is no one right way to cope with trauma, pain or loss. Her experience is a poignant illustration of the varied forms of emotional support people seek and the importance of approaching others with empathy and an open heart.

We spoke for a while longer, and I was grateful for her trust in allowing me to photograph her and her ‘family’. This encounter left me with a deep appreciation for the resilience of the human spirit and the varied coping mechanisms people use in their lives.