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Monday, May 16, 2011

Three rings, one camera: Lincoln resident's long-ago photos of circus exhibited at Shelburne


Photo by Elliot Fenander. Collection of Shelburne Museum.

Written byElliot Fenander

from: bulingtonfreepress.com

May. 14, 2011

Why photograph the circus?

Perhaps it's in my DNA. In 1917, my grandfather, Dwight Watkins, a professor of public speaking and English at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., wrote a one-act farce, "Freddie Goes to College." In the play, Freddie's parents believe he is studying hard; however, when they visit him, they discover he has joined the Wallenbeck Circus, married the beautiful equestrienne and become a one-third partner. It's an ironic twist on the Horatio Alger myth: Diligence at college wasn't the springboard for Freddie's colossal success.
Perhaps, as Wordsworth stated, "The child is father of the man." Fast-forward to 1946, after World War II, when my father took me, at the age of seven, to see the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus at 11th Street and Erie Avenue in Philadelphia. Still vivid are my memories of the clown, Lou Jacobs, getting out of his midget car; the equilibrist, Unus, white-gloved and balancing high atop a globe on his index finger; and Emmett Kelly's Weary Willie, valiantly attempting to sweep a shifting pool of spotlight under a rug.Subsequently, I learned how to develop film and make prints at summer camp, but my main responsibility became academic — high school, college, and graduate school. As I embarked on my career as a high school English teacher, my parents gave me "Points of My Compass," a book of E.B. White's essays. In "The Ring of Time," there it was, the basis of my future photographic exploration."The circus comes as close to being the world in microcosm as anything I know; in a way, it puts all the rest of show business in the shade. Its magic is universal and complex. Out of its wild disorder comes order; from its rank smell rises the good aroma of courage and daring; out of its preliminary shabbiness comes the final splendor. And buried in its familiar boasts of its advance agents lies the modesty of most of its people." We glory in the circus because we see people performing feats that most of us can only do in our dreams. The circus gives the impression of freedom and fantasy; it doesn't matter whether the ringmaster's hyperbolic adjectives are fabrications — we want to believe them.read more at:http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20110515/ARTS04/105150304/Three-rings-one-camera-Lincoln-resident-s-long-ago-photos-circus-exhibited-Shelburne?odyssey=mod%7Cnewswell%7Ctext%7CFRONTPAGE%7Cs

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