About When the Circus Came to Town! An American Tradition in Photographs
“The photographs in this book focus on the people—from midway artists to roustabouts, from performers and their families to the audiences who watch them each night—who create the magic of the circus. Rogala’s work presents the highs and lows of circus life with a powerful combination of documentary pragmatism and empathy that conveys day-to-day details with a sense of wonder. Her rich black-and-white images follow light and shadow (and dust) from set up to rehearsal to performance, with color photography underscoring the drama of a red tent against a clear blue sky or the flash of sequins under the spotlight…. Dynamism and a spirit of collaboration are at the heart of circus life, animate Rogala’s archive, and are central to scholarship at the Smithsonian.” (From the introduction)
Nearly two decades after Dawn Rogala’s time behind the scenes at America’s circuses, Dawn Rogala donated her photography archive to the National Museum of American History. The Rogala Collection is the basis for Rogala and colleagues David Haberstich and Shannon Perich to combine in one volume their complementary expertise in photography. Rogala’s essay revisits her time as a young photographer, documenting day-to-day struggles and triumphs of the workers who create a world of wonder for the rest of us. Haberstich reviews the history of documentary photography with an emphasis on depictions of people and their work, placing Rogala’s photographs in the context of the history of traveling societies and immigrant groups. Perich explores the changing roles and relationships between photography and the circus, both of which matured amid industrialized economy, and discusses the Rogala Collection’s place in a long history of circus photography.