When Ciara Alberts sent me her photographs from ‘Midway’ I allowed myself a wry smile, for I too understand – to some degree – the rigours of life spent on the road entertaining hordes of people at festivals, in cities, towns and villages across the land. In my case Ireland and Europe.
However, I was not in the circus, I did not grow up in one. I simply spent 10 years making large puppets, floats and costumes and had a career doing carnival parades, workshops and impromptu shows for the general public. What both myself and Alberts do have in common though is an insight into the reality behind the mask, the makeup, the facade. Being on the road is tough, the show is merely the icing on the cake. The rest is a slog; long days and short nights. Moving, always moving. No sense of being present in the moment. It’s a rewarding life, a truly alternative lifestyle that gives you a different perspective on the ordinary and everyday.
For the first 10 years of Alberts life she, and her family, were on the road with a travelling carnival called the Reithoffer Shows. After 10 years off the road she took off once again, hit the road and began documenting a circus life. But it was not to be the laughing clowns, the animals, the classic circus pictures that we’d expect of a documentary rather they are of the moment that lies inbetween, the midway point where everything comes together -audience and participant, private and public space – through colour, space, time and the incongruous dichotomies of multiple realities.
She gives us textures and bright tones, shiny metallic surfaces and greasy fast food rubbish, wandering spectators and pulsating lights. Each photograph giving us the space to contemplate, to reminisce on our own circus experiences, to reflect on an art form that has been part of human culture for millennia. Here’s what she has to say about the project:
My childhood was spent with my family on the travelling carnival, Reithoffer Shows, which they continue to work for today. My family has been in the carnival business for over 60 years. My days used to be full of travel, as well as all of the characters you’d expect from a carnival and an amazing amount of cotton candy.
Colour was the main unifying formal quality I was searching for when taking pictures for this series. The fair’s vernacular elements are filled with otherworldly colour saturation and began to almost function as stage sets when I was out shooting.
The work is primarily concerned with my shifting relationship to the carnival, it’s the change I witnessed in how participants are now interacting with carnivals, the materiality and contracted nature of the carnival itself, and the different ways of presented it all within contemporary photography.