Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Bible of the Circus

Now, that’s really big. The size: 20 x 13 x 3.3 inches (50,8 x 33 x 8,4 cm). Just imagine the corresponding weight. Alive in the inside, 900 images, 760 pages. No way to hold it in your hands. The printing, design and fabrication are the best you can even dream.

Circus literature through the centuries is an infinite, exciting and surprising landscape of marvels. But this one risks to be the best circus book ever. If legendary bibliographer Toole-Stoot was alive, he would have jumped from his chair.

Where our inconsiderate enthusiasm generates for “Circus 1870-1950”, just published internationally by Taschen? This book has an interesting approach to the circus, reflecting the identity itself of the big top divertissements: the emphasis on size, richness, exageration, surprise, rarity, colossal cornucopia of never-ending wonders.

The recipe of this masterpiece of a book is just the same of the glorious circuses of a bygone era: assemble the bigger and the best ever. So, take the world’s best publishing house in the field of illustration (Taschen); treat the reader with the finest available paper choice wrapped with a solid, elegant, bible-like cover. Assemble for the first time ever those considered as the four most prestigious circus collections in the world: The Circus World Museum of Baraboo; the Tibbals Collection at the Ringling Circus Museum in Sarasota; if not enough, the antique prints from the Pascal Jacob – Williams collection at Tohu in Montreal; and, just to top the cake, the generous paraphernalia from not less that Ricky Jay. To write competent essays, the editors (Noel Daniel and Linda Granfield) called the most world-encyclopedic circus historian walking today upon the face of the globe: Dominique Jando, with, as a guest star, the best fact-checker that the sawdust mitology ever knew in his long history, Fred Dahlinger. The picture captions are enhanced by a crowded constellation of small gems: circus-waxing quotes incessantly fleeding thru the pages from the pen of Steinbeck, Hemingway, De Mille, and dozen of others.

Now, this was enough to fill such a project. But is just the beginning. In fact, Taschen digged in other collections revealing in the best splendor possible the great gems of circus photography: legends as F.W.Glasier and E.Kelty. And with them, Mathew Brady, Cornell Capa, Walker Evans, Weegee, Lisette Model, Charles and Ray Eames. The odd and unusual, too: they unearthed never-before seen circus photos taken by a young Stanley Kubrick (!). And, for the first time in print, the first existing colour photos of a circus, with the polaroid series of C.Cushman visiting Ringling’s (a treasure until today hidden at the Illinois University). Jando and Dahlinger investigated the identity of performers and acts compiling precious captions for the reader. The sideshow art is not forgotten: with the works of banner artists Nieman Eisman, Fred G. Johnson, and David "Snap" Wyatt.

Just an example of how surprising is this treasure chest: the following magnificent picture, taken in 1948 at Ringling's circus, is one of the first colour photos of a circus ever taken. But, if this is not enough to amaze, there's something more about it.

In fact, the photographer was a young reporter from "Look" magazine called Stanley Kubrick.

The experience of this book for the circus lover, generates the same awe to stay in front of a Holy Bible for a religious. For those of us that are not initiated to the circus, the sense is probably of the same awe, witnessing here the bizarre repository of a colossal religion, almost gone, but still able to surprise and disturb.

The price is according to the pachidermism of the whole, too: 200 dollars in the Usa or 150 Euros for the european market. But you can be sure that it worths the double.

Oh, and they even remembered our friend Blacaman...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Some of the first color photos that I can remember are from Bev Kelly's work in the 1931 National Geographic. I was even thinking that the Silvan-Drew photo used was shot in 1929.
great work on your blog and glad to find it.

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