We all have childhood memories of the circus: exotic animals, daring artists and funny clowns. This is the sunny side of the circus, which is shown to the visitor. In reality, the circus business is not very glamorous: companies are facing ever-increasing costs, high regulatory requirements, protests from animal rights activists, and fighting for the favor of spectators, who can now choose from a huge range of entertainment and events.
Many artists dream of working for a large, renowned circus company in the world. The competition among the acrobats is huge, only very few make it to the top. They expose themselves to the dangers of injury on a daily basis, have to help with the set-up and dismantling, often live for months separated from their families and all this for little fame and reward.
The circus world is changing – the traditional travelling circus is threatened with extinction and with it the existence of many artists. Without even talking about Covid-19. Some of the circus companies I photographed no longer exist.
In this long-term project I have photographed the spectacle behind the curtain in Switzerland and abroad in several circuses (e.g. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, National Circus of Cuba, Nock, Knie, Royal, Salto Natale, Conelli, Harlekin and Helvetia). The backstage was my "stage". I always photograph spontaneously and instinctively, I don't let the protagonists pose. I chose on purpose not to show any photos of the performance in the circus ring itself.
I want to introduce the viewer of my pictures to a world that is invisible to the spectators of a circus show. The roller coaster of the protagonists' feelings when they are not in the spotlight. The mysterious, sparse light behind the manege. The calm intensity of the introverted artists. The unexpected, magical moments that suddenly arise and never happen again.
This project pays homage to the world of circus shows and their artists.
CIRCUS NOIR was published as a photo book in 2021.
Keywords:CIRCUS NOIR, Circus, artists, backstage, behind the scenes, dramatic, magical, mood, mysterious, shadow
© Oliver Stegmann Photography