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Circus Magazine3
Courtesy of Circus

Circus is the unserious beauty platform for total weirdos

Devised by photographer Jackson Bowley, the debut issue features contributions from make-up artists Grace Ellington, Lynski, and Nicola Brittin

“I keep describing the magazine as stupid,” photographer and founder of new beauty platform Circus Jackson Bowley jokes. “People keep saying I can’t use that word to describe it, but have you seen the contents? It’s the most stupid thing I’ve ever done.”

While Circus might have stupidity in spades, it also has quality too – with each contributor’s single image visually impactful enough to hold up as an album cover or movie poster. Bowley credits this to the amazing wealth of beauty creatives involved, and people he admires. That includes make-up artists like Grace Ellington, Lynski, Nicola Brittin, nail artist Anh Hoang, and Community member Janina Zais. Not to mention, a bunch of photographer peers: Michiyo Yangihara, Henry Gorse, and Éamonn Freel.

Each image is more left field than the last, loosely threaded together with the initial theme of ‘circus’ – smiley face boobs and bejewelled acrylic toenails, a dishevelled Goofy-looking character almost too realistic to be prosthetics. “It’s not to be taken too seriously,” Bowley explains. “I’ve just done it how I would want to do it. I might be right or wrong, but I don’t care because it’s mine. It’s my chance to have a go and work with amazing creative people to give them support.”

It might be a wacky and wild ride from start to finish, but Circus also has a quiet and consistent message – particularly around the hierarchies that can often exist at fashion publications. “Everything about this magazine is what I’ve been told I shouldn’t do: everyone gets one image, everyone is on the same level, there’s no hierarchy,” he explains. “On the contributors page, it’s not just the photographer or stylist, it’s the person I asked. It’s just little things like that, looking at the dated way of working, and instead everyone is celebrated. Sometimes when I do a shoot, I feel like I’m a fraud, because I might have an idea but it wouldn’t happen without the hair and make-up artists. So, I was keen to make this about more than just the photographers.”

Here, we speak with the photographer to find out more about Circus and what you can expect from it.

How did the idea for Circus first come about? 

Jackson Bowley: It initially popped up in my head out of nowhere, but it has also been a long time coming at the same time. I’ve always wanted to make a book, but I didn't have enough content or a strong enough idea. Then, six months ago, I was lying on my bed and I hadn’t worked in a while so I was bored and a bit down. So I thought ‘fuck it’, this is the best time to do something in print. Obviously I knew it had to be beauty and I was bored of all the boring imagery – so it had to be fun. 

What was the brief for the contributors? 

Jackson Bowley: I gave everyone the theme of circus, but I didn’t want people to take it literally and have 20 pages of clowns because that would be so annoying. It’s called Circus, but I wanted to use the name as an all-encompassing word. It’s all a bit chaotic and mad. I put a lot of trust in my contributors and didn’t give anyone too much direction. I chose people I really liked and admired, so I knew I was guaranteed to get something incredible. 

Are there any funny stories you can share from the making of the issue? 

Jackson Bowley: The funny thing is the only people who did something last minute are probably the biggest two people involved. In the actual image, there’s an email chain between me and Bobby Doherty, with me telling him to just shoot something on his iPhone, so that’s what he did on holiday in Mexico, which I love because it’s just so ridiculous. 

How does Circus differ from more traditional beauty platforms? 

Jackson Bowley: When I first started, it was just a way to kill some time, but it quickly became what I’ve been missing. For as long as I’ve been shooting beauty, I’ve struggled to find a magazine or even photobook that addresses my kind of style. The more I worked on it, the more that I got a good reaction from it and people were saying they really needed it. 

It’s huge, it’s an absolute beast and a logistical nightmare. The size and format, people said I wouldn’t be able to sell it, but that kind of reaction just fuels me even more – who cares? It doesn’t follow rules and it’s annoying to navigate. It’s funny watching people unpack it all and figure out how to look at it. It needs that much space, so I think it’s great. 

It almost feels like an anti-magazine in a way, would you agree? 

Jackson Bowley: It’s definitely anti. When I started it, I didn't want to be political because a lot of people feel like you need to have a voice to do anything, but I’ve never been one to get deep and meaningful with my work. There are enough photographers covering important topics and have more of a right to do that, I just want to make images that make people smile or think ‘what the hell?’ – evoke some kind of emotion. 

But then as I was doing it, I realised I hate magazines and that they’re really lost. There was a heyday a few years ago, where stuff was getting exciting again, but then everything became stagnant, so I wanted to shake it up a little.

What do you hope to achieve with Circus? 

Jackson Bowley: When I was getting people involved, I was telling them to make it a client’s worst nightmare, not something they’d expect to get hired off of, that was the goal. 

What draws you to capturing beauty – whatever that word means to you? 

Jackson Bowley: I get free rein to do whatever I want and I don’t have to tick any boxes. I got into beauty from a completely novice background, I never assisted a beauty photographer and I hate lighting setups; I’d rather shoot outside, it’s a lot more free. I always assisted people that were running around with a camera and a reflector and having a lot of fun, so to be able to apply that to beauty is exciting because I haven’t seen much of it. I can just do what I want, and make-up artists and hairstylists can too. If I like somebody’s style I’ll tell them to run with it and they always get scared. I want them to be more dramatic and they think I’m a madman. Being able to create these fantastical images that are bold and eye-catching; there are less rules with beauty. 

Where do you want to take Circus in the future? Will there be another issue? 

Jackson Bowley: I say that it’s mine a lot, not in a selfish way, but it’s my baby. The only person I need to listen to is myself; the friendly advice people tried to offer was just to do what is expected. That’s what makes me want to continue making this and make it even bigger – I want it to be A0 and see how far I can push it. Why not? There’s so many images to still make, so I want to continue, but I don’t want to force anything. I’m just going to see what happens but there will definitely be a second issue. 

Circus Issue 01 is available now