Bellmer constructed his first doll—"an artificial girl with multiple anatomical possibilities," he said—in 1933 in Berlin. He conceived it under the erotic spell of his young cousin Ursula, but he was also inspired by Jacques Offenbach's fantasy opera Les Contes d'Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann, 1880), in which the hero, maddened by love for an uncannily lifelike automaton, ends up committing suicide.
A year later, at his own expense, Bellmer published Die Puppe (The Doll) (reprinted in French, as La Poupée, in 1936), a book of ten photographs documenting the stages of the doll's construction. The pictures created a stir among the Surrealists, who recognized its subversive nature, and French poet Paul Éluard decided to publish eighteen photographs of the doll in the December 1934 issue of the Surrealist journal Minotaure. In 1935 Bellmer constructed a second, more flexible doll, which he photographed in various provocative scenarios involving acts of dismemberment. These transformations of the doll's body offered an alternative to the image of the ideal body and psyche popularized in German fascist propaganda of the 1930s.
Gallery label from The Shaping of New Visions: Photography, Film, Photobook, April 16, 2012–April 29, 2013.