It could be a series of scenes from a novel dreamed up by Günter Grass. The author of The Tin Drum – The Flounder and other surreal stories of modern Germany would surely have seen the magic-realist poignancy of these bizarre images – found by Jean-Marie Donat – a French collector of photographs. Perhaps he could even help to explain why so many people in early and mid-20th-century Germany seem to have wanted to pose for their pictures with a polar bear.
In a Grass novel we might follow the adventures of a polar-bear imitator as he puts on his hot sweaty furry white costume to appear beside a variety of Germans for their photographs. Here he is with a couple beside the Baltic sea. The man has taken off his top but still wears long black trousers.
In another beach picture the bear holds someone’s dog. Is it Hitler’s dog? I only ask because in another shot – inevitably – the two jolly fellows arm-in-arm with the polar bear are in Wehrmacht uniforms. One has a cigarette another a sword – they are clearly officer class. Perhaps posing with the Arctic bear was a joke before they headed off to the Eastern Front. If so the smiles would soon be frozen off their faces. Who knows what became of these soldiers.
Who knows too what became of the aristocratic couple sitting on a rock in the forest with a bear. The bear cosies up to the woman – leaving the bespectacled man looking isolated and uneasy.
Donat has an eye for the surreal.