WILD, WEIRD AND WONDERFUL: The American Circus 1901–1927 as Seen by F.W. Glasier

Mark Sloan, Author, F. W. Glasier, Photographer, Timothy Tegge, Illustrator . Quantuck Lane $39.95 (128p) ISBN 978-0-9714548-4-2

Dispensing entirely with circus clichés, Sloan (Hoaxes, Humbugs, and Spectacles) presents the photographs of Glasier (1865–1950), a commercial photographer in Brockton, Mass., who shot promotional photos of the various circuses that repeatedly came through town over the years. His photos, printed fully rather than as they were cropped for ads, reveal a subculture presenting itself unapologetically (even defiantly)—and fascinatingly. Sloan writes: "As a sustained document of circus life at this time, there is no known equivalent": "The Illeson Sisters, Acrobats" finds two child performers perched on large balls, hoisting the smallest (in a near perfect split) between them, with their prideful looks questioning the assumption of total exploitation; in "Sparks Circus, 1923," a clown, via barely perceptible wires, tows a skeleton behind him that seems to float as it mimics his movements; a group shot of a circus wedding party (the ceremony itself often "held in the center ring in front of the spectators during intermission") shows the participants extolling a solemnity-within-spectacle that also displays their intelligence and deliberate self-fashioning. An introduction by essayist Timothy Tegge ("born and raised performing as a clown in his family's one-ring circus," the press chat notes) vividly traces circus history back to Rome. Anyone interested in American cultural history will find that these 62 b&w photos reveal a great deal about how performers—often from a great diversity of backgrounds—comport themselves toward their art. (Mar. 1)

Reviewed on: 01/13/2003
Release date: 11/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
Discover what to read next