Life & Culture

A Photographer Turns His Lens on the Performers of Shanghai Circus

In his new series ‘CIRCUS’, shared exclusively with Another Man, photographer Paul Vickery captures the acrobats, aerialists and martial artists of Shanghai Circus

  • TextTed Stansfield

The circus is a place where human ability is pushed to its very limits; where people perform extraordinary acts that seem to defy the very laws of nature. Photographer Paul Vickery has been fascinated with this form of entertainment from a young age. In 2014, he was invited along to Shanghai Circus by one of his subjects (a Shaolin martial artist) and spent the next ten nights photographing him and his fellow performers: acrobats, aerialists and other martial artists. This is the result: beautiful black and white images that capture not only these performers’ extraordinary abilities, but their humanity too. Dedicated to Vickery’s friend and colleague, the stylist and Buffalo icon Barry Kamen who passed away in 2015, these pictures will be on display at Exposure gallery in central London from this evening. Ahead of this show, Vickery shares an exclusive first look of this series and tells us more about these incredible performers.

“I love everything to do with performance. I guess my fascination with the circus goes back to when I was a kid. Circus performances my gran took me along to always stick in my mind – there was something so magical and surreal about them.

“A Shaolin martial artist I had been photographing (for a personal project) invited me along to watch a new show in which he was performing. I wasn’t told anything about the show, so I didn’t know what to expect  – I wasn’t even sure if I would be allowed to shoot! But I took my camera and film with me anyway.

“I asked them if I could come back again and shoot and, after overcoming a few hurdles, I was good to go… It’s always a privilege to be let into a subject’s private world and I was given extraordinary access. With that privilege comes responsibility – to tell the story in a way that’s honest.”

“The performers were amazing. I was immediately struck by their warmth and camaraderie backstage, and knew in a heartbeat that this was an important part the story I wanted to tell.

“The performers’ openness and generosity of spirit allowed me to make images that are both sensitive and revealing. I was really struck by their respect and support for each other and of course their total dedication to what they do – they are professionals and like all professionals, ‘the devil is in the detail’ (as my gran used to say!) – it’s the thing that separates professionals from everyone else.

“I wanted to make images that were honest and told the performers’ story both on and off stage. There were moments of intense drama and beauty on stage and I also wanted to make images that spoke of the quiet poetic moments off stage – it’s these quiet ‘moments of truth’ that aim to give the story gravitas.”

CIRCUS is at Exposure, Little Portland Street, London, W1W 8BU, from May 10.