Stories from the Melancholy Circus
I was swearing to myself in the middle of the aisle at the flea market. I had been circling around looking for props for a certain project, but one of the dresses hanging on a rack had caught my attention, and I kept returning to it again and again. When I took the pink 1920s style dress in my hands, I immediately saw in my mind three people, three rooms, and three stories. I saw three rooms in an old dusty circus, full of different objects and gloomy characters in the middle of them.
At that moment, I knew that this wouldn’t be a project with a manageable workload. How would I have the energy to carry this out in the middle of the everyday circus? Even though I fought the inspiration for a moment, a small voice inside my head was saying: “I want these images to come to life”.
Life is an everyday circus
The circus, the traditional type with a circus tent and a ring mounted on a sand-covered sports field, has never really been my thing. But the everyday circus has become much more familiar. The circus of our routines is not a light thing to observe. Things are launched and happen to the music of different emotions. You struggle to keep up. Sometimes you laugh, sometimes you’re scared, sometimes you cry. Maybe that’s why this series was drawn on my mind’s canvas as it is, as a tiring everyday circus. While making this series, I thought about the different roles that we carry with us. I thought about the tiredness and how we become numb to it. I thought about the speed that we get lost in so often. Every story on my screen made me feel something so familiar. I wanted each of my characters next to me for a moment, to offer them a cup of coffee with a bun and to say: “It will get easier in time…let’s talk about it. Everything’s fine.”
Before we move on to the stories, I want to thank all the models in this series from the bottom of my heart. I’m so proud of you all, and your performance in front of the camera was unbelievable. All of you! You made me cry out of happiness and because I was so touched.
Chapter I “Tears of the Clown”
”I painted a smile on my face.
I ran the show.
The crowd cheered and laughed.
But when the limelights fade,
my true face is revealed.”
For all of you, who have to keep up the role.
“The tears of a clown” is a well-known metaphor for the tears and true feelings that hide behind our smiles and roles we play. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the burdens of creative professionals, musicians, and actors, as well as those of athletes. People who have such a strong drive to give something of themselves to others. People who have the desire to be seen and heard inside of them. People whose role is to be worthy of the expectations of others. People who are constantly under scrutiny. People who are forced to be role models against their will.
What’s it like to experience a roller coaster of emotions that follows the whims of the audience and their opinions? What do the lonely moments afterward, out of the limelight, feel like? How does it feel to be publicly portrayed as someone you don’t recognise? How does it feel to be loved by everyone and in the next moment abandoned by them all?
As the pressure and conflicts grow too large, these stories too often turn heartbreakingly sad. I thought about them specifically when I was creating this picture: those who have to paint a role on their face.
Chapter II “Sleepless nights of the Prima donna”
”The stars are shimmering.
I used to shine too…
Before nights like these”
To all tired parents. Especially to mothers.
Everyone, who has ever stayed up for the night with a crying child in their arms, knows this feeling: when no cup of coffee can wake you up the next morning, when the crying doesn’t stop, when the walls are closing in on the stay-at-home mom. When a warm cup of coffee and a calm moment to enjoy it is a rare moment to celebrate. Because usually, the coffee is cold. When you love and feel more than ever, but at the same time, you’re wondering where the old you disappeared. Being a parent is the most demanding job I know. You can’t understand it before you have lived it. With it come feelings that you didn’t know existed before. Being a mother is a complex, coiled, and berated role. For a long time, I have wanted to take a picture of the challenges of parenthood. Still, I would never have believed that it would appear in the form of a Prima donna from an antique circus. But I’m amused and happy that it happened just like this: with pearls around her neck.
Chapter III “Unstable times of the Rope Dancer”
”Gambling with my life.
The crowd loves the feeling of danger.
So I’ll raise the bar.
I’m getting high, higher.
I numb my own fear.”
For all of you, who struggle with balance.
Even though I distanced the characters in my circus far into the past, with the scenery of the old circus, the topics of these pictures are fully present today. The rope dancer is a character who I want to use to channel my criticism for what the modern time is like. It’s continuously raising the bar and shifting into a higher gear. It’s continuously challenging yourself. It’s burning the candle at both ends when nothing ever seems to be enough. The excessive speed of the modern time plays with your health, your life. We extinguish fires here, there and everywhere. We balance on the unstable bars of the expectations that have been set high. We burn out more easily, in more dangerous ways, and faster than ever before.
I have never done anything like this before. I’ve never set the scene for my photoshoots to this extent. There were enough things to fill four cars. In these photoshoots, I used nearly all the props I had in storage from over the years and creating each room was a small nostalgic trip into specific projects. I have never managed to create such a light in my pictures. Combining natural light with the flash has, over the years, been one of my great stumbling blocks. But in this project, the importance of creating the right mood forced me to create the light I saw in my mind. I have been humbled into silence in front of all that inspiration has taught me this time.
Clown’s makeup: Suvi Sievilä
Prima donna&Rope dancer Muah: Satu Sirelius (www.makeupsatu.fi)
Video clips dunring the photoshoot: Coby Aiysoe (@coby.ayisoe)
Stories/poems/scenery/photos/edit: Suvi Sievilä