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.
Jean-Marie Donat’s TeddyBär series is currently on view at Les Rencontres de la Photographie at Arles 2015, through September 20.
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.