The circus has taken a pretty hard rap over the years. Not the glam Cirque de Soleils of the 21st Century, but the old school blood, sweat and tears outfits of yesteryear. Exploitation of the disfigured, animal cruelty (portrayed in the film Water for Elephants) and incest apparently ran rampant among the touring circuses.
Regardless of the controversy, few can deny the romance that surrounds the circus: running away for a nomadic life with a mysterious tight-rope walker is a universal childhood whim (thanks Enid Blyton), one that comes somersaulting back the moment you set foot in the timeless high-top arena. Where else can you see human canonballs, knife throwers, lion tamers and trapeze artists? Did I forget clowns?
What many of us don't realise is that in Eastern European countries, the existence of street children was virtually unheard of before 1989; the circus offered a lifeline to many otherwise helpless outsiders. Italian photographer Giuliano Plorutti's (another champion of the outsider) latest photobook Circus presents these travelling performers off duty, rehearsing, relaxing or clowning around in an unprecedented look behind the scenes of the circus. In a prefacing essay, Luca Panaro describes Plorutti's agenda:
“The show might not go on but the circus exists all the same. This appears to be what was going through Giuliano Plorutti's mind during the time he spent with itinerant performers. It is the people, not the personalities that interest him. He is more attracted to their afternoon practising than their evening performance. He is fascinated by individuals, by their rhythm of life, their affinity with seasons and their nomadic lifestyle outside the accepted norm.”
Giuliano Plorutti Circus is out now, published by Damiani