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Short Story: The Lonely Polar Bear

Dec 6, 2012

by dnoyes

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Here at Etsy, we believe that the story behind an object is often just as fascinating as the object itself. Short Stories is our series dedicated to telling the tales behind extraordinary pieces found or created by Etsy sellers.

Here’s Deb Noyes of StoriedEye with the tale behind her hauntingly beautiful photograph.

I’m a former zookeeper with mixed feelings about zoos. A few years ago, I wrote and photo-illustrated a young-adult book called One Kingdom: Our Lives with Animals (Houghton Mifflin, 2006) that explored the human-animal bond in myth, history, science, and story.

I was shooting black-and-white film at the time, and two big themes in the book are emotional intelligence in animals and the ways we anthropomorphize them for our own purposes, so I settled on close-cropped emotional portraits. I wanted to focus on each subject as an individual. But isolating them from their environments (most were photographed in zoos) later made me feel that I’d cheated somehow, sacrificing truth for beauty, especially after I saw the work of Britta Jaschinski, a photographer who doesn’t flinch from what captivity really looks like.

It’s been a while, but I’m 99% sure this bear was photographed in Oregon Zoo, about three years after One Kingdom came out. There’s nothing subtle about the picture. I caught him in a still moment, and the environment says it all. I didn’t have global warming or the plight of his species on the brain at the time, but you can certainly view this “lonely” bear — adrift on his concrete floe — as a metaphor for what’s happening. Zoos are often referred to as “arks,” a last refuge for endangered species, and while they play a critical conservation role by educating the public, it’s an uneasy exchange, I fear. That fear, that feeling, is what’s relayed here.

Editor’s note: Due to technical constraints, we had to crop the photo for this post. Be sure to click through for the full view of Deb’s beautiful photo.

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3 Featured Comments

  • SusanFaye

    Susan Faye from SusanFayePetProjects said 3 years ago Featured

    A beautiful photo that speaks volumes about the overall plight of wildlife! Yet it also points out how a single photo may not tell the whole truth-- I have photos of the Portland zoo polar bears (there are two -- a brother and sister) happily frolicking, swimming, and interacting in their habitat. Which "reality" do I want to believe? Did I project my own sadness about the plight of wildlife onto Deb's beautiful image? Are these two bears happier and more likely to survive at the zoo than in their disappearing habitat in the wild? Great food for thought.

  • JanJat

    Catherine from JanJat said 3 years ago Featured

    Hauntingly beautiful. It reaches into my soul and pulls at my heart. Zoos can be an incredible resource for good by unfortunately there is always a trade off and those who favor profit over conservation. It is our responsibly to care for this planet and this photo captures just how delicate that balance truly is.

  • LoveButtons

    Julia K Walton from FireHorseVintageHQ said 3 years ago Featured

    What a sad and beautiful photograph. I applaud zoos that are conserving endangered species, but, if only all wild animals could be protected in their native environments, the world would be a better place.

64 comments

  • MegansMenagerie

    Megan from MegansMenagerie said 3 years ago

    Awwww...he does look lonely. Though he looks sad it's a beautiful photograph.

  • kathyjohnson3

    Kathy Johnson from kathyjohnson3 said 3 years ago

    What a beautiful picture! The photographer captured the essence of this gorgeous creature!

  • ShoeClipsOnly

    kathy johnson from ShoeClipsOnly said 3 years ago

    Gorgeous pictures! Congratulations!

  • LivingVintage

    LivingVintage from LivingVintage said 3 years ago

    Gorgeous picture!

  • aostudio9

    Adrienne from DabAndDabble said 3 years ago

    Stunning and insightful!

  • PolishMeFreddy

    Alfredo Ramos from PolishMeFreddy said 3 years ago

    Thank You for sharing your story. I'm a huge fan of polar bears and the one in your photograph does look extremely lonely.

  • somsstudiosupplies

    Som from somsstudiosupplies said 3 years ago

    Haunting picture!! Zoos are arks indeed and it is our responsibility to take care of the rest of God's creatures.

  • unusualumbrella

    Lindi M. Harden from unusualumbrella said 3 years ago

    That is an amazing photo. This article almost made me cry! It's so sad that things have come to this.

  • QueenofCuffs

    mary from QueenofCuffs said 3 years ago

    Deb of StoriedEye has such a way with stories and the theme behind her work. A true artist storyteller that draws you in to the subject. Recently took part in a team challenge with one of her images and the depth of story sang out !!

  • CelesteCraft

    Celeste from CelesteCraft said 3 years ago

    I agree with what I believe the writer is saying: When we anthropomorphize, we are projecting our own emotions into what we perceive the animal to be feeling. Great art often allows us that connection, the opportunity to see ourselves in teh subject and feel _with_ it.

  • MuseandMurse

    MuseandMurse said 3 years ago

    Beautiful, heartbreaking capture. Lovely art.

  • maggiesraggedyinn

    Mary Robertson from MaggiesInn said 3 years ago

    What a beautiful picture and what a story that bear could tell us about real life....

  • lisaburkin

    Lisa Burkin from lisaburkin said 3 years ago

    what a stunning photo!

  • ThreeBarDGifts

    Monica from ThreeBarDGifts said 3 years ago

    Beautiful shot! The reflection and look in his eye has been captured for ever. Love it!

  • SusanFaye

    Susan Faye from SusanFayePetProjects said 3 years ago Featured

    A beautiful photo that speaks volumes about the overall plight of wildlife! Yet it also points out how a single photo may not tell the whole truth-- I have photos of the Portland zoo polar bears (there are two -- a brother and sister) happily frolicking, swimming, and interacting in their habitat. Which "reality" do I want to believe? Did I project my own sadness about the plight of wildlife onto Deb's beautiful image? Are these two bears happier and more likely to survive at the zoo than in their disappearing habitat in the wild? Great food for thought.

  • odelay03

    odelay03 said 3 years ago

    I was uncertain about clicking on this story because I knew this piece would stir up strong emotions. I am also mixed about zoos. I am literally crying over this picture, partially because of PMS but also due to the bear's composure and expression. I live in Brooklyn and frequent the Bronx Zoo. There is a polar bear there who breaks my heart. He/she is always pacing and seems distressed. I cannot go anywhere near this bear because I get heavy with sadness and the image stays in my mind. Am I projecting my own human feelings onto these bears? Perhaps. But I also know that animals can certainly feel and have heart and soul. Thanks for sharing your photo and thoughts.

  • Meliorey

    Mercedes from Meliorey said 3 years ago

    Incredibly beautiful photo! I'm very sorry beautiful bear that you're not free!

  • WildRumpusKnitting

    Jessica from WildRumpusKnitting said 3 years ago

    A beautiful photo that shows the grace and quiet "humanity" of animals. If we only knew what they were thinking...

  • leeannasjewerybox

    Leeanna from LeeannasJewelryBox said 3 years ago

    The emotion is really captured in this photo. A picture really does say a 1000 words.

  • Iammie

    iammie from iammie said 3 years ago

    Beautiful!

  • EdelweissPost

    Patrick from EdelweissPost said 3 years ago

    Loneliness. For me, this photograph captures the essence of that most painful of all emotions.

  • taunyacox

    Taunya Cox from TheBarefootBombshell said 3 years ago

    Really just beautiful

  • mazedasastoat

    mazedasastoat from mazedasastoat said 3 years ago

    I have very mixed feeling about zoos... if only we lived in a world where "arks" weren't necessary to preserve the wildlife.

  • AcrossLeather

    Lawrence Carter from AcrossLeather said 3 years ago

    Extraordinary photograph reminded me of my own life. Being a part of etsy's family has shed brighter days for me though. I wasn't gonna write anything but figured I'd share a moment in time.

  • hasincla

    hasincla from travelwanderings said 3 years ago

    Beautiful photo! Although we will *never* know what this bear is thinking (or really any animal for that matter) we can imagine what his expression would mean on a human face.

  • jamasters

    Jess Masters from RefinedRock said 3 years ago

    amazing-priceless-thought provoking

  • SheppardHillDesigns

    David and Celeste from SheppardHillDesigns said 3 years ago

    It's tragic, what humanity has done to animals, both in deed and negligence. Zoos have become the ark of species that we are crowding out or killing off, but what a sad tradeoff for those who should be in the wild.

  • admirerofdreams

    admirerofdreams from admirerofdreams said 3 years ago

    If this is the Oregon zoo, I have been to this zoo and have seen this polar bear. He seems very lonely and anxious (though I am not an animal expert). He had lost a lot of his fur (you could clearly see patches of his black skin) and was continuously walking backwards around a rock formation. Zoos are a mixed bag for a lot of reasons. I am positive most zoos are aimed at helping animals and educating the public, and that is a great work. It is just hard to watch an animal looking lonely or in distress; I think it personifies them and reminds us of our own feelings too.

  • iamshop

    iam shop from iAMshop said 3 years ago

    love u!!!

  • CraftyWoolFelt

    Claudia from CraftyWoolFelt said 3 years ago

    The photography is gorgeous... but sad at the same time =( poor little lonely Polar Bear ♥

  • GoldenSpiralDesigns

    Lola Ocian from GoldenSpiralDesigns said 3 years ago

    Brilliant and moving! I'm looking forward to checking out your book. Thanks for sharing!

  • unastigsdottir

    Una Stigsdottir from Unaberries said 3 years ago

    my hubby and i wanted to play a concert for the animals in the nuerenberg zoo now i feel really bad bout not having prioritized that at the time. Next time ill just whip my guitar out. Love from Iceland.

  • lapisbeach

    Lauren from lapisbeach said 3 years ago

    Awwww- your photo is beautiful, but I am saddened by the thoughts it provokes.I hope this poor guy is fairing well at the zoo;(

  • FoxyGloves23

    Marie Cashin from MEmbroideries said 3 years ago

    Beauty, and sadness at once. hope for healing

  • auntjanecan

    Jane Priser from JanePriserArts said 3 years ago

    Very beautiful photography. The polar bear photo is heat-breakingly haunting.

  • LineaLina

    Susanne Major from LineaLina said 3 years ago

    I can't believe it's a photo. Amazing!

  • 24pm

    PM dolls from 24PM said 3 years ago

    OME Cute!!

  • pinksnakejewelry

    pinksnakejewelry from pinksnakejewelry said 3 years ago

    Very Haunting Photo!!!! Have very mixed feelings about zoos too.

  • busterandboo

    Buster and boo from busterandboo said 3 years ago

    Heartbreaking. Why don't they another polar bear with him? We have horses, they are herd animals. They are frantic without each other. I will never separate them.

  • busterandboo

    Buster and boo from busterandboo said 3 years ago

    Heartbreaking. Why don't they have another polar bear with him? We have horses, they are herd animals. They are frantic without each other. I will never separate them.

  • JanJat

    Catherine from JanJat said 3 years ago Featured

    Hauntingly beautiful. It reaches into my soul and pulls at my heart. Zoos can be an incredible resource for good by unfortunately there is always a trade off and those who favor profit over conservation. It is our responsibly to care for this planet and this photo captures just how delicate that balance truly is.

  • DewyMorningVintage

    DewyMorningVintage from DewyMorningVintage said 3 years ago

    I LOVE Animals with a passion but I never visit a zoo because most of the animals there seem so sad. I will never forget the lonely black bear I saw at a zoo once in his concrete enclosure, he looked sooo sad and lonely and followed my gaze for a long while. It was too much for me. I do know zoos do good as well but I just can't take seeing animals in cages and not in their natural environment. The photograph took me back to that lonely black bear. The photograph is beautiful in a haunting way. Her other photographs/art works are equally stunning too. Thank you for sharing.

  • ESTATENOW

    VINTAGE NOW from ESTATENOW said 3 years ago

    Cuteness...I love this story and the photos, thanks for sharing it with ALL of us.

  • minouette

    Ele from minouette said 3 years ago

    This makes a great short story and I appreciate the considered commentary about the role of zoos, the nature of animals and our relationship with them, as well as the photo itself, and the role of the photographer (and the question of the value of truth and beauty).

  • PrayerNotes

    Prayer Notes by Cynthia from PrayerNotes said 3 years ago

    He does look sad and lonely. I just can't visit zoos... I just imagine myself being caged, with no song... The photo is beautiful. ~Cynthia

  • claudiadelrio

    Yaya from Liukenko said 3 years ago

    Poor little guy.

  • vinylclockwork

    Scott from vinylclockwork said 3 years ago

    I'm about an hour away from the San Diego Zoo, the wild animal park, and Sea World those places help out a lot Gotta love the Polar Bear

  • reginamiles1

    Regina from ChainAndCluster said 3 years ago

    Ugh, I agree with many of the above posts. Haunting yet beautiful photograph.

  • reginamiles1

    Regina from ChainAndCluster said 3 years ago

    Haunting yet beautiful photo...

  • sandrostumpo

    Sandro Stumpo from GalleryDiModa said 3 years ago

    First off great photo. I have mixed feelings about zoos. On one hand the poor animal is in captivity. But on the other hand a lot of endangered species are safer in the zoo because of all the illegal hunting. Reminds me of dogs expressions when they are sad.

  • butikonline83

    Hendri . from butikonline83 said 3 years ago

    This article gives the light in which we can observe the reality. this is very nice one and gives indepth information. thanks for this nice article

  • TheBeautyofBoredom

    Gracie from TheBeautyofBoredom said 3 years ago

    Sounds like an interesting book, I may have to check it out. I'm an animal person, and the relationships between humans and animals is very interesting to me. I also have mixed feelings about zoos...in one aspect, people might feel bad about caging them up, as they are wild, not domesticated animals. In another it might be they only safe place for them, especially if they are endangered.

  • lovelyfeverboutique

    Jessica from LovelyFever said 3 years ago

    What a hanuntingly beautiful image. The emotion of lonliness is so vividly captured in this photo. I was able to take a look at the seller's shop and was very impressed with her art :)

  • CharmedByWine

    Mary from CharmedByWine said 3 years ago

    absolutely beautiful photo.

  • LoveButtons

    Julia K Walton from FireHorseVintageHQ said 3 years ago Featured

    What a sad and beautiful photograph. I applaud zoos that are conserving endangered species, but, if only all wild animals could be protected in their native environments, the world would be a better place.

  • choochoopretty

    choochoopretty from choochoopretty said 3 years ago

    I have also struggled with how I feel about zoos. I have seen this polar bear, and the enclosure is not very big! I think most of the animals need way bigger spaces, like the elephants, they deserve at least a few acres of grass.

  • myvintagecrush

    Kathleen from myvintagecrush said 3 years ago

    Wow.. stunning. I have a hard time with zoo's too. On one hand sad, the other necessary..

  • samtait

    Sam Tait from WhiteoakGallery said 3 years ago

    I love nature and all things beautiful, and although this photo invokes emotions of sadness in me for the lonely polar bear, it reveals an unspoken beauty of the bear and its surroundings—magnificent photo!

  • browniequilts

    Amy Brown from BrownieGifts said 3 years ago

    what an amazing photo! It does however show the plight of the polar bear. I work for coca/cola and coke is working with the world wildlife fund to help protect the arctic home of its beloved icon. Thanks to all who help support this effort!

  • BaxCatandCo

    Kelly from BaxCatandCo said 3 years ago

    This photo is so powerful to me from my screen. Thank you for sharing this, and the story behind it. I am an animal lover, and believe in their ability to think and feel. Love the stillness, simplicity, and contemplation portrayed with this polar bear here. Thank you

  • Laribelle

    Larissa Pelletterio from MythMirrorMask said 3 years ago

    Beautiful. Haunting. Solitary and Sad. What a poignant shot of such a majestic creature.

  • aressa

    aressa from OriginalBridalHanger said 3 years ago

    Love the collection of photos...Serene...

  • LaECLECTICa

    LaECLECTICa from Laeclectica said 3 years ago

    Interesting blog post!

  • dnoyes

    Deb Noyes from StoriedEye said 3 years ago

    I just want to thank you all for these incredibly thoughtful comments. It's gratifying to know that my lonely bear has inspired such important and timely conversation about animal welfare and conservation. Topics dear to many hearts -- that's clear. Thanks again.

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