The Circus by Bruce Davidson, 1958

Circus by Bruce Davidson, Steidl, 88 pages, 131 tritone plates, 29.7 cm x 29 cm, clothbound hardcover with dust jacket, May 2007 (Flash is required to preview the book). © Bruce Davidson [the hi-res photo shown above was found over at The Online Photographer]

In the photograph above, the clown is included by the photographer (not only in the frame, but also in the foreground, as the main subject) while being excluded by the clients (who are laughing at him, slightly blurred and cropped in the background). One ought to be strike by the feeling of rejection and loneliness conveyed by the clown’s sad face. And yet, despite being exposed to this dreadful mise-en-scène, one would most likely feel empathy for the central character in this photograph. More photographs of the dwarf-clown Jimmy Armstrong can be found over at Catherine Edelman Gallery’s website.
More about this book:

Bruce Davidson’s latest book brings together his work in three very different American circuses across a decade of the mid-twentieth century. Davidson’s poetic and profound eye reveals not only the circus that is passing away, but takes us through what could be called the eternal circus. At a three-ring show in 1958 Davidson climbed to the top of the tent to view the performances of famous lion-tamer Clyde Beatty and human-cannonball Hugo Zacchini. His deeper interest was in the daily lives of circus people – the roustabouts, riggers, a pretty girl who rode an elephant in the “spec”, and an intimate series of a dwarf clown. Most of these pictures are published here for the first time. (Steidll website)

A review of this book by Geoff Wittig can be found over at The Online Photographer:

Davidson’s focus isn’t so much on the show-biz side as on the prosaic reality of the lives of the circus folk. The great Emmett Kelly makes an appearance, but The first section of the book in particular delves into the life of Jimmy Armstrong, dwarf-clown of the Beatty circus. Some of these photographs have become iconic; here they are presented as intended, part of a sympathetic look into the lives of these working people. The photographs themselves are remarkable; incisive, beautifully composed, all rich tones and glowing highlights, with grain actually adding to the impact.

About American photographer Bruce Davidson:

Bruce Davidson is one of America’s most respected and influential documentary photographers. His love of photography began at the age of ten in Oak Park, Illinois. In 1947, at the age of 16, he won his first prize in the Kodak National High School Competition. He went on to attend The Rochester Institute of Technology and Yale University. After military service in 1957 he worked as a freelance photographer for Life Magazine, and in 1958 he became a member of Magnum Photos, the International photography agency. (more over at the Soulcatcher Studio)

More online resources about Bruce Davidson:

  • Bruce Davidson’s portofolio over at the Magnum Photos website (Flash required).
  • “Bruce Davidson on Street Photography”, a video excerpt (Flash is required) offered by The New Yorker website (January 2011):

    In September we débuted the trailer for Cheryl Dunn’s excellent new documentary on New York street photography, “Everybody Street,” which premièred at the equally excellent show “Alfred Stieglitz New York,” at the Seaport Museum. Here’s Dunn’s take on the photographer Bruce Davidson, the fourth of five exclusive expanded excerpts from the film that we’re featuring here this week.

  • Some of Bruce Davidson’s advertising work can be found over at the Art Department website (Flash is required).
  • Bruce Davidson is represented by the Edwynn Houk Gallery.
  • Bruce Davidson at the Museum of Contemporary Photography.
  • The Time put up a slideshow of “The Work of Photographer Bruce Davidson” to mark the publication of Davidson’s new book Outside Inside (April 2010).
  • For the same occasion (the publication of Ouside Inside) The New York Times photoblog LENS conducted a lenghty interview with Davidson: “The Renowned, Unknown Bruce Davidson” by James Estrin and Josh Haner (June 28, 2010).
  • “Time of Change by Bruce Davidson” is a five minutes documentary produced by Magnum Photo:

    The period from 1961 – 1965 was the defining era of the American civil rights movement. As a participant and observer of this struggle for racial equality, Bruce Davidson chronicled the demonstrations, the protests, the aftermath of the bombings, and the social and political tumult that arose out of the conflict. “Time of Change” is a testament to the everyday lives of the people who fought against accepted social norms of segregation, poverty, and discrimination.

    Watch it below:


Subscribe to our newsletter

This newsletter serves one purpose only: it sends a single email notification whenever a new post is published on, never more than once a day. Upon subscribing, you will receive a confirmation email (if you don’t, check your spam folder). You can unsubscribe at any time.