Monday, February 14, 2011

Let’s go to the circus - Part 1

I don’t know if it’s because I have recently started to watch ‘Carnivale’ - another fantastic HBO show released in 2004 - or because I randomly came across amazing circus images in the last few days, but I decided to dedicate this new post to the world of the Circus. It has been a great inspiration for many photographers over the years, but many of them have played a great tribute to performers and artists of this intriguing art.
 Well, who has never been amazed by the magic, the mystery, the tragedy or the extravagance of a Circus? Acrobats, clowns, trained animals, musicians, jugglers - all acting together to entertain ‘children of all ages’. Isn’t it the perfect subject for any photographer? 

The Andreu-Rivels: Polo, René and Boby (Charlie) - Photo: Johnny Rivel Collection (c.1915)
 The idea here is not to recall the history of the circus over the ages - from Ancient Rome fighters to 19th century American travelers, from European Gypsies to Chinese acrobats, from Indian performers to Contemporary Circus artists – but just to look at Circus Photography and let ourselves be transported by the thrills of the spectacle. Here is a non-exhaustive random selection of Circus artists’ images, which will hopefully move you as they moved me.
Mary Ellen Mark, Indian Circus

Mary Ellen Mark is one of the most respected and loved documentary photographers in the world. She has achieved such a strong visibility over 4 decades of photography that I probably don’t need to present her here. After 16 books and numerous photo-essays and portraits in famous magazines, she is one the best humanist photographers of all times. Socially committed, she travels a lot to tell the stories of the lives of people on the edges of society. In 1989 and 1990, she traveled throughout India to photograph 18 of this country's liveliest circuses.


‘Photographing the Indian circus was one of the most beautiful, joyous, and special times of my career. I was allowed to document a magic fantasy that was, at the same time, all so real. It was full of ironies, often humorous and sometimes sad, beautiful and ugly, loving and at times cruel, but always human. The Indian circus is a metaphor for everything that has always fascinated me visually.’

Through moving portraits and candid daily scenes she shows us all the little secrets of these people, their affections for each other, their interactions with their animals, their hard work… Full of humor, emotion, simplicity, her images tell an extraordinary story of humanity.

Usman at Jumbo Circus. Mangalore, 1989

Pinky, Shiva Ji, and Laxmi. Great Royal Circus, Junagadh, 1990

Transvestite and Child Clown. Lion Circus, Bilsanda, 1989
Acrobats Practicing. Bharat Circus, Bulandshahar, 1989
Ratna Practicing at Great Royal Circus. Junagadh, 1990

Learn more on Mary Ellen Mark:
Learn more about the history of circus:

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