March 27, 2009


Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus will begin performing its 139th edition at Madison Square Garden in NY this week. Tens of thousands of children and adults are entertained each year, while some take issue with animal rights and others confront their childhood fear of carnies and clowns. The truth is what's there to be afraid of but "Man's inhumanity to man?" 

It all brings to mind an amazing series of photographs taken by Bruce Davidson at the Beatty-Cole-Hamid Circus, Palisades Amusement Park, New Jersey in 1958. The artist writes of Jimmy Armstrong, billed as "Little Man" on circus flyers:

"There was a cold drizzle on that afternoon when I first saw the dwarf. He was standing alone outside the tent smoking a cigarette. His distorted torso, normal-size head, and stunted legs both attracted and repelled me. He was dressed in a "Little Tramp" costume wearing a tux with tails, sporting a black derby, and holding a small bouquet of fake paper flowers. He stood there pensively in the privacy of his inner thoughts. As I moved closer he sensed my presence but the click of my camera shutter did not seem to disturb him. He seemed to know that it was the inner moment I was drawn to and not his clown face or physical appearance. I wanted him to be himself and not act the clown because I was taking his picture. He was waiting for the musical cue that would send him into the brassy sounds and glitter of the wonderment world exuding from inside the big top."

"He disappeared into the tent and I felt his loneliness and at the same time a certain power standing over a man less than half my height."

Bruce Davidson is represented by the Howard Greenberg Gallery, NY.

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