The Teddy Bear is my story.
I had the Teddy Bear given to me by my brother when I was born. Ted once was pink, with a set of embroidered eyes and nose and a push button to squeak in his tummy. He had a companion also hugged into pieces, a real fur Koala. His Bakelite nose still strong, the stuffing has dribbled but his form has stayed as he was made from real animal skin, kangaroo I think. He has an off-putting bald taxidermy and tanned hide appearance. Thus when I spend time in different places the wonders of bears attracts me: Watching grizzly bears stand in a fast running stream catching salmon in the wilds of Alaska can keep one entertained for hours. I am in wonder every time I see Koalas in the bush, usually being pushed out by property development and general urbanization. I have stood on Russian and Norwegian expedition ships to watch the polar bears living and hunting on the ice floes. And tried to photograph the long, long tongue of sun bears hidden in the wilds of Borneo. These are bears. All of these creatures tempt the tale of extinction.
The original Teddy was designed for Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt an American President who had had polio and was wheel chair bound. He was however never shown in the wheelchair, rather depicted as a strong manly man to represent the strong American. Once on the campaign trail the Governor of Mississippi set up a hunting expedition. A photo opportunity was seized on to have Theodore ‘teddy’ Roosevelt be set alongside a bear as the great hunter. Roosevelt refused to shoot the small old black bear that the hunters had tied to a tree and surrounded by dogs. The bear was in such agony that he was put down. Roosevelt was photographed walking away with the bear in the background. Toy manufacturers then created the ‘teddy bear’ to recall this stance of care taken by the president.
It is worth noting that Roosevelt was a conservationist and started the National Parks movement in America with 5 national parks and 51 bird reserves and an attempt to limit hunting to game reserves.
The Teddy Bear is the cuddle toy of choice for many children and included in post trauma packs for children after flood, fire, violence or other trauma.
These bears in my video are the polar bear. Who has also been ‘teddified’ through commercial enterprises around the world. But more closely associated with the catastrophe of Climate Change in what is called the Anthropocene. The bears of the Anthropocene are depicted as skinny, starving and dying on disappearing ice floes, fighting for reduced food options. I have even read articles that depict the bears as adaptable because they have been found foraging in dumps outside of communities. These images and stories shift how we will remember the bears. These extraordinary wild bears will become domesticated, fed for tourist adventures and ‘bucket-list’ jaunts...much like current ‘swim with shark’ adventures and they will only be kept in zoos. They will become extinct in the wild as their numbers drop dramatically in the Arctic.
The images here are stories of these disappearing giants. Depicted in domesticated situations and in the wild. Our stories of the greatness of giants will be lost alongside the tall tales of wilderness and what we understand as wild.
Homosapiens are perhaps the 6th extinction and teddy bears are our evidence as long as we remember why.