Monday, May 10, 2010


Article courtesy of Don Covington

Ringling photo exhibit features
turn-of-the-century circus performers

Bradenton Herald
Bradenton, Florida
May 9, 2010

They were beautiful and exotic.

Turn-of-the-century circus folk were always known as such. They included clowns, aerialists, contortionists and glamorous ladies with the power to tame tigers.

But beneath the makeup, the costumes and the tricks, they were normal people living a celebrated, gypsy lifestyle.

That’s what can be seen in the Ringling Museum’s next exhibition, “Heyday: The Photographs of Frederick W. Glasier,” which opens Saturday. Glasier’s camera captured hundreds of these prolific entertainers during the late 1800s and early 1900s, when circus was king.

“The camera has an amazing, unrivaled capacity to record spectacle — and the circus was certainly spectacle,” said Peter Kayafas, co-curator of the exhibition and author of “Circus: The Photographs of Frederick W. Glasier.” “It’s also clear that Glasier was drawn to people, perhaps to people who were on the margin of conventional society — i.e. circus performers or performers in general, who had some special approach to their craft.”

The Ringling’s Circus Museum collection holds 1,700 of Glasier’s images, but only 60 will be shown for the exhibition.

To coincide with the event, the Sarasota-based contemporary dance troupe Moving Ethos will interpret a handful of Glasier’s circus photos through a dance concert dubbed “The Center Ring” on Friday and Saturday at the Historic Asolo.

Through the lens

Glasier served as the official photographer for the Barnum & Bailey Circus, according to the museum. He had unrestricted access to all aspects of circus life. It may have been a epic assignment for a photographer since, back then, the circus was treated like a front-page news event in each city it traveled to.

“The circus was the largest, single, social spectacle at the time,” said Deborah Walk, co-curator of the exhibition. “It was a common denominator that gave people information about electricity, about hot air balloons. People saw their first car in the circus. The films were first debuted in a circus tent. So it was place where people came.”

But there was a part of the circus where the public couldn’t roam. That was the back lot, where Glasier shot many of his eye-catching photos.

His photo style: Portraits that depict a sort of drama or emotion. They focus solely on the circus entertainers themselves. No one else.

“If you look in the background, there’s never any people,” said Kayafas. “So it’s a private performance for Glasier’s camera and therefore for us.”

Kayafas notes that all of Glasier’s work was done with an ancient precursor to today’s instant digital cameras, which makes Glasier’s talent as a photographer stand out even more. His pictures were taken with view camera — a large, 15-20 pound box of wood with a glass lens, a frosted plate, shutter release and dark cloth that sat on a tripod.

For more information of the Ringling Museum of the Circus, please click the title of this post.

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