Circus!

Feature Project

Statement

In 2006, at her family’s beloved multi-generational summer home near Algonquin Park, Ontario, celebrated American/Canadian photographer Elizabeth Siegfried found a dusty cardboard box full of what appeared to be old dishes and the remains of squirrel nests. It was in this box that she discovered long-lost film treasure: dozens of canisters of 16 mm film footage shot between 1927 and 1942 by her maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Chapin White (Bess).

Of particular interest and surprise were two dozen reels labeled “Sarasota”—Siegfried, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada, had recently returned from her first brief period of living and working in Sarasota (she now resides in Sarasota six months of the year).

Over the next four years, Siegfried transferred the 92 reels of analog film to digital video media, uploaded it to her computer, and viewed scenes from the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s featuring three generations of her family engaged in travel, community events, and home life. Slowly, with the help of film editing software and plenty of time, Siegfried was able to examine each frame. What emerged from the Sarasota films was extensive footage, in both color and black and white, showing vivid scenes of the historic Ringling Circus.

The Exhibition

The photographs in CIRCUS! are individual film frames carefully selected and edited from Elizabeth Chapin White’s film footage.

Living in Rochester NY in the Kodak “heyday,” Siegfried’s grandmother was fortunate to have firsthand access to the cutting-edge technology of still and moving photography. She became an avid amateur photographer, documenting family and community events at home and beyond. She had been a regular visitor to Sarasota, where she spent time filming the animals and the circus rehearsals at the Ringling Winter Quarters and filming the Dutton Show People in Bradenton. Bess’s interest in shooting the Ringling Circus surfaced in later films as well, taken when the circus travelled to Rochester in 1940 and 1942.

The era of the 1920s–‘40s was the golden age of the circus when Americans were captivated by the novelty of exotic animals, the antics of clowns and the daring of high flying aerialists.

Artistic Vision

Eager to share this historic period as seen through her grandmother’s eyes, Siegfried set about the task of selecting frames from the films that would stand on their own as compelling individual images. This process of “harvesting” kept her in a constant state of fascination and wonder as each reel of film underscored how similar her own photographic sensibilities were to those of Bess. It is not surprising that many of the photographs in CIRCUS! reflect the same compositional style and subtle visual nuance for which Siegfried is known in her own work.

The captivating original footage, shot more than 70 years ago, offered Siegfried an unexpected and perhaps predestined opportunity for a cross-generational collaboration with her grandmother. The seemingly endless source of material provided by the footage allowed Siegfried to travel back in time to “photograph” engaging glimpses of the historic Ringling Circus and to share those images with us in the 21st century.

Project Images

Click to enlarge

 

Triptychs

Click to enlarge

 

Emmett Triptych

Emmett 

Balance Triptych

Balance 

Diptychs

Click to enlarge

 

Going Nowhere

Going Nowhere

Dutton Show People Triptych

Dutton Show People 

Stilt Man

The filming of Stilt Man was shot by Bess “head to toe” in 1942 as the Ringling Circus performed in Rochester, New York.

Siegfried constructed the vertical sequence of Stilt Man by stacking four non-adjacent frames from the film footage.

For almost a century the Nelson family flew through the air and walked on stilts in the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. In the 1940s, John Nelson developed the original circus version of Uncle Sam in eight-foot stilts.

John Nelson left the circus in 1957 and died five years later at age 75.

Stilt Man

Installation Images

Click to enlarge

 

The Algonquin Theatre, Huntsville, ON, 2018

Philippi Estates, Sarasota, FL, 2016

Purchase a Print

Elizabeth Siegfried Photography

All images on the website are available for purchase, with select images available as platinum prints.

All images are made in editions of 10. Prices range from $600 to $2500 USD, depending on edition, size and medium (archival digital print or platinum print).

If you are interested in purchasing a print from this feature project, please contact Elizabeth using this form.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.