Review: Peter Lavery: Circus Works Exhibition

Widely known for his highly skilled narrative works and acclaimed advertising photography, Peter Lavery has also been photographing circus performers throughout Britain for the last 50 years. Shot largely on a historic plate camera, Peter has captured an impressive and unique collection of circus subjects, which has become the longest running social documentary project within the history of Photography. We are fortunate that many of Peter’s sensitively recorded photographs and recently completed short films are presently being exhibited within the Mount House Gallery.

Peter commented: “I started ‘Circus Works’ whilst studying for an MA in Photography from the Royal College of Art. I was visiting home in Wakefield, and I took in a performance of the Winships Mini-circus in the Queen’s Hall in Leeds. That’s where it started.”

For ‘Circus Works’ Peter has personally selected an inspired suite of both his black and white and colour imagery. I was particularly fascinated to see how certain performers had aged over time, such as Billy Tempest the Escapologist. Peter’s black and white recordings evoke a sense of past times and culture, rich in visual narrative. His more recent colour plate photographs bring the recording of circus performers into the 21st Century.

Peter created, with the help of colleagues, two short live action films; one associated with his creative practice and the other, the life of a circus performer, Tweedy the Clown. Both films are being screened within the gallery and were highly praised at the show’s opening.

Whilst celebrating 250 years since the Circus was initially invented in Britain, a new book has also been published to co-inside with Peter’s dedication in photographing the ever-evolving subject for five decades. The publication admirably conveys the sometimes haunting, unwavering reality of the circus, from backstage to performance. Each image also distinctively informs the reader of Peter’s exclusive experiences by sharing his compelling life through his narrative based circus photography.

Peter states: “I study the shape of the pictures more when I am using a plate. I think of the frame as a theatre or a stage set around an image. Photography has the ability to educate and to make one dream. My dream is that I could bring this rich legacy of the circus to a greater audience and the book will enable us to do that.”

When viewing both Peter’s extraordinary collection of circus imagery and beautifully compiled book, one can absolutely agree that he has achieved this goal. This outstanding exhibition continues until Wednesday 12th December and is highly recommended.

Review by Harry Lack (CO L6)

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