February 16, 2018

Peter Lavery @ The Harley Gallery, Welbeck, Nottinghamshire - Circus Work

Peter Lavery: Circus Work
The Harley Gallery, Welbeck, Nottinghamshire
Through 15 April 2018

Ruslan Daurbekov in a bear suit, Moscow State Circus, 1988
Copyright Peter Lavery

For anyone who has ever dreamt of running away with the circus or simply wondered what life is like for the jugglers, clowns, and acrobats, a new exhibition at The Harley Gallery by acclaimed photographer Peter Lavery captures what goes on behind the scenes at the Big Top.

Peter Lavery has spent the last 50 years following circuses the length and breadth of Britain and Ireland. His intimately detailed, large-scale photographs, taken in both black and white and colour, show circus performers relaxing while off duty, practicing, getting ready to perform, part made-up and costumed, and revealingly off-guard.

The son of a miner, Peter Lavery has developed an enduring interest and passion for his subject since dropping in on a small indoor circus in his home town of Wakefield in 1968. ‘Circus Work’ is part of Circus250 a UK-wide celebration of the first circus near London’s Waterloo in 1768.

Nell Gifford, joint founder of Gifford's Circus with Toti Gifford, 
with their children Red and Cecil
Copyright Peter Lavery

Nell Gifford, who founded Gifford's Circus with Toti Gifford. Nell is pictured here dressed in riding regalia with their children Red and Cecil. Nell is a regular equestrian performer, and the children sometimes make an appearance at weekends. "I held the jewel of my childhood up to my eye, and through it I saw ponies and a dressing up box, and a tent, and that was Gifford's Circus". The discerning viewer may recognise that the set up of this shot bears some resemblance to Dorothea Lange's iconic 'Migrant Mother' that captured the essence of the great depression. One of Peter's favourite photographers, this portrait was partly intended as a homage to Lange's great work.

Jana 'The Little Devil' Roberts backstage, 
The Blackpool Tower Circus, 2005
Copyright Peter Lavery

Jana 'The Little Devil' Roberts backstage at The Blackpool Tower Circus in 2005 where she performs acts including a diabolical triple fire hoop trick.

Gabor Eotvos Senior, Tibor Eotvos, and Gabor Eotvos Junior, ‘Eotvos’, Billy Smart’s, 
Fairfield Hall, Croydon, 1971 
Copyright Peter Lavery

The Eotvos Hungarian clowning troupe ran their own circus, Eotvos Produccio, in Hungary. Tibor, the youngest Eotvos son, directed the show, and his mother advised them, as she helped with the running of circuses, including the Hungarian State Circus, for over twenty years.

Five Blackpool Tower Circusettes in their changing room, Blackpool Tower, 1974 
Copyright Peter Lavery 

The Circusettes were a troupe of attractive young women who preceded the acts with a short dance routine. It was their job to fill in the gaps between acts, keep the show flowing and generally look good.  

Caroline Gerbola on Conchita, Fossett Brothers, Tralee, lreland, 1986 
Copyright Peter Lavery

Caroline performed in ‘The Flying Cherokees’, an aerial act with her husband, as well as her equestrian act in which she shows her horse Conchita. 

Bertram Mills, the famous British circus proprietor, believed that a gentle approach is vital in training horses: “Training secrets?”he said “There are none. Patience, understanding and carrots are the eternal triumvirate. There is no other way with a horse, and never was....!"

A60 Mansfield Road
Welbeck, Worksop,

S80 3LW