Waltzing With Polar Bears

The Unexpected Joy of Viewing Photos From a Forgotten German Fad

Combing through photographs at flea markets brings its own particular thrill. The act carries a voyeuristic delight, akin to reading a stranger’s diary or listening in on someone else’s confession.

Every now and then, a newspaper story will publicize an unmasking of a picture-taker or subject in a frame: a man buys a stack of negatives in a Barcelona flea market only to discover a forgotten talent. A woman in California tracks down the true story of a sick Minnesota child. But these are the exceptions. More often than not, the …