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THE PASSING RING (1996-present)

In the spring of 1996, my film camera was the admission ticket to the Culpepper & Merriweather Great Combined Circus, a traditional one ring traveling show, which set me on an unexpected, circular path for the next 25 years – at once becoming close to and grappling with this vast morsel of American culture, while at the hand of an ever-changing medium. The circus dwells in a complex space where it is simultaneously a source of spectacle, an historic art form, a nomadic community and way of life – a microcosm of living mythology. I am drawn to the notion of the circus as a crossroads and meeting ground for disparate people. In its ordered chaos, the circus offers a portal to an anachronistic world, while also a place of belonging with its own sense of family. By resisting only one pictorial style with my sprawling collection of portraits, landscapes, and performance imagery, I am celebrating the poetic spirit and kaleidoscopic nature of the circus.

Much like Alice getting distracted from her studies and falling into Wonderland, I met Culpepper & Merriweather while in graduate school deeply focused on a conceptual project about identity (quite literally inspired by Lewis Carroll). I was smitten with the timeless charm of the blue and white big top, so I snuck out the backdoor of the Victorian era and followed the arrows to the circus. I have seen much of the American landscape while on the road visiting C&M. For the past two decades, personal artistic growth and film photography’s (d)evolution notwithstanding, the Circus has been my Wonderland.

Though the crowds are growing smaller, Culpepper & Merriweather still persists, moving quietly through the countryside and tiny towns west of the Mississippi, arriving each day just after dawn. Twenty-four hours later, the caravan pulls away leaving barely a trace, save some imprints on the ground and in the minds of those who came to see the show.

bakersfield
may 8, 2011 6:32am

here it is again.
the same lonely feeling that creeps in every time as i watch the caravan pull away, knowing i will be heading in a different direction. alone. no matter how i know i will see them again, there is something to this feeling that the family is leaving or that the show is going on without me. the feeling of belonging to a flock, a pack, or a tribe is really exaggerated on the circus – especially this one – much like on a film set – so to see them all leave, no matter how tired of sleeping in the car or in need of a shower i am, leaves me with a bit of a pang. every time.

NOTE: The pandemic grounded circuses across the country for the 2020 season. As of May 2021, C&M is back on the road – and the Show goes on…I am currently editing this work for a book.