Beauty and the Beasts

A sight that we'll never see again. This is the big parade from the Barnum and Bailey Circus. When they rolled into town via train, they assembled the animals and walked them to the site of the performance. I created this image, Beauty and the Beasts while covering one such parade. 

When I saw this woman working with the elephants before the parade, I knew there would be a powerful photo. Her fair skin and silk costume were natural textural points with the elephants dark, textured hide. The size differential, she was small compared to the massive pachyderms, was a distinct bonus.

To put it all together, I backed off and selected a 300mm lens to compress the scene. I wanted all those elements on the same plane.

Compositionally I was aware of the line of the elephant's eyes leading the views eyes through the image. Instinctively I was also looking for the Fibonacci spiral or rule of thirds to strengthen the dynamic composition. When I felt all the elements come together, I pressed the shutter. I got one frame, and the woman disappeared between her charges. 

The scene developed in moments lasted for a split second and never came back together. That's photojournalism. You're either ready or your not. Your senses must always be on high alert whether you are covering the President of the United States, a city council meeting or a circus parade. As an early mentor always said, "To get there (hand held high) you have to start here (hand held low) and work your ass off every day on every job, no matter what you're shooting."

In the darkroom, I did a significant amount of work to massage the contrast in particular areas. Ilford Multigrade paper was a miracle. You could use a grade 5 filter in one area to increase contrast and a low grade 0 in another to balance a wide range of tones. It was not unusual for me to use three or four different filters on a print. A lot dodging and burning of small areas took place as well to bring the emphasis to the woman. As is often quoted from Ansel Adams, “The negative is the equivalent of the composer’s score, and the print the performance.” You see only to show.

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