TEDDY_15

An image from Jean-Marie Donat’s collection (all images courtesy Jean-Marie Donat)

Try not to crack a smile at the sight of a polar bear crashing human picnics, photo-bombing social soirées, and seemingly just trying to fit in. That’s the challenge when perusing TeddyBär, a new photo book featuring dozens of bizarre photographs taken in Germany between the 1920s and ’60s featuring improbable cameos by a man in a bear costume and collected by French editor Jean-Marie Donat.

Unfortunately, the history behind the bear costume in many of the images is darker than you’d expect. It was created by the German stuffed animal company Steiff as a mascot for Fanta, the carbonated soda invented in Germany during World War II to make up for the shortage of Coca-Cola. Look a bit closer and you’ll see Nazi insignia and swastikas on the uniforms of soldiers linking arms with the bear and the dress of a smiling girl leaning in for a hug. The polar bear comes to symbolize the German desire to pretend things were normal — to enjoy a fizzy drink, pose for a silly photo with a furry friend — and ignore the fact that grizzly death was swirling all around.

TEDDY_02

An image from Jean-Marie Donat’s collection

TEDDY_08

An image from Jean-Marie Donat’s collection

TEDDY_13

An image from Jean-Marie Donat’s collection

TEDDY_18

An image from Jeann-Marie Donat’s collection

TEDDY_23

An image from Jean-Marie Donat’s collection

TEDDY_29

An image from Jean-Marie Donat’s collection

TEDDY_35

An image from Jean-Marie Donat’s collection

TEDDY_38

An image from Jeann-Marie Donat’s collection

TEDDY_39

An image from Jean-Marie Donat’s collection

TEDDY_45

An image from Jean-Marie Donat’s collection

TEDDY_49

An image from Jean-Marie Donat’s collection

TEDDY_52

An image from Jean-Marie Donat’s collection

TEDDY_55

An image from Jean-Marie Donat’s collection

TEDDY_64

An image from Jean-Marie Donat’s collection

Jean-Marie Donat’s TeddyBär series is currently on view at Les Rencontres de la Photographie at Arles 2015, through September 20.

The Latest

History Is Not an Open Book 

The 1969 exhibition 5 + 1, and now Revisiting 5 + 1, are reminders that the history of Black Art in the United States is diverse rather than monolithic.

Laura C. Mallonee

Laura C. Mallonee is a Brooklyn-based writer. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU and a B.F.A. in painting from Missouri State University. She enjoys exploring new cities and...