Extract from the essay "Behind the scenes" by Thomas Wiegand
Circus – isn’t that a tent full of stereotypes about freedom, adventure and romance? A spellbound, excited, guffawing audience, bright-eyed children staring in wonder, the roll of drums and a brass band playing lively music, intrepid acrobats in colourful costumes performing aerial feats high above the ring and garishly made-up clowns and their antics.
In Oliver Stegmann’s circus, these stereotypes have all but disappeared. The photos were taken over a period of 15 years behind the scenes in different circus companies. These are quiet pictures which have been carefully selected and combined into a fictional story that audiences would normally never get to see from the edge of the ring.
Stegmann is interested in the atmosphere of tense expectation and utmost concentration when the artists are rehearsing or just about to go on stage for their hair-raising acts. Stegmann captures the essence of these moments by doing away with colour and exploiting the lighting outside and inside the ring – he uses no flash in an effort to avoid disturbing the scene. The protagonists emerge from the darkness in a manner that is reminiscent of expressionist films.
Stegmann’s photos invite viewers to take a closer look, stimulating their imagination. The photographer portrays people dressed in strange outfits whose work as acrobats, tamers, jugglers or clowns seems insecure on every level. Yet they all identify closely with their roles. We can see and feel their passion.
For his circus series, Oliver Stegmann uses a classical kind of imagery that has rarely been applied to the small world of the circus as consistently and confidently as in this case. Thus, in terms of subject-matter, design and production, Circus Noir takes a different approach to this genre, which is all too often caught up in stereotypes, by adding an entirely unromantic perspective that focuses on the true essence of what it means to work in a circus.
Thomas Wiegand is a photographer, art historian and book authour. He was co-initiator of the Kassel Photo Book Festival.