I have had a life long love affair with circus. As a teenager in South Africa, on the day the circus arrived in town, I used to go down to the railway station at the crack of dawn to watch their carriages painted in bright circus type faces, disgorging a noah's ark of exotic creatures - human and animal. The smells, sights and sounds (in those days circuses still had full live bands*) were an intoxicating inspiration. I so fell in love with this world that I ended up training with the circus as a trapeze catcher, and they eventually offered me a job, but it meant leaving home and travelling the world - needless to say, my relatives talked me out of it.
When I related this story to my son he said that I would probably still have become a photographer but under different circumstances. If so, I would certainly have produced the circus book that I longed dreamed to shoot. Other photographers, illustrators, editors, typographers and historians have paid rich homage to the circus with wonderful books - a selection of which can be viewed here.
In any event the circus references crept into various shots I took over the years and recently while looking through the archives for my new book I found these images from the 70's, taken in my studio off the King's Road in London.
The circus remained unusually strong in South Africa during the fifties and sixties because television was only introduced in the early seventies - which instantly killed the heyday of great classical big top circus with its leading acts from around the world.
The legacy of those times lives on with a superb trapeze school in Cape Town that offers international careers (including to Cirque du Soleil) to a spectrum of young South Africans. You can read more about the ZipZap school here.
* For those of you interested in authentic circus music 'The Merle Evans Circus Band' have a very good CD called 'Circus Music from the Big Top'. The album is available on the iTunes store. The physical CD can be purchased on Amazon's store and they also have a download option. The greatest signature music for circus is undoubtedly Fucik's 'Entry of the Gladiators'. An excellent rendition by the Band of the Swedish Air Force is available on iTunes.