As a photographer, you always feel a little more aware of your surroundings than other people. After all, your livelihood depends on your eyes, on seeing things that other’s don’t. But it’s easy to forget that no matter how aware you are, everyone eventually becomes numb to their daily environment. That’s why traveling outside your comfort zone is so important to longevity in this industry, it keeps your eyes fresh, not just on the road but when you come back home. And traveling doesn’t necessarily mean somewhere far either, it could be another neighborhood, a different block, a quick hike, or yes, biking through Cambodia.
I’ve been thinking about comfort zones and new perspectives ever since I moved to the foot of Mt. San Jacinto, which towers above Coachella Valley in California. Every day something new catches my eye, or my ear, it’s been an invigorating experience. And those experiences are what really keep my art alive, keep me passionate about doing what I do. Case in point; earlier this year I was driving in Yucca Valley, on my way to Joshua Tree when I noticed some circus trucks in an open field. I could see the beginnings of a tent under construction, workers hurrying to-and-fro in the crisp morning air.
I parked and walked over to the campground, where I eventually struck up a conversation with the owner of the Ramos Bros. Circus, Oliver. He recognized my accent and as it turned out, he had traveled all over Scandinavia years before, as part of another circus. That coincidence provided an opportunity to ask if it would be okay for me to take some pictures of the circus, and perhaps because of that connection, he acquiesced. I came back with my wife the next night, just to take in the show as an audience member. One of the things that really caught my eye was how the imperfections really added to the rustic charm of the entire operation; this wasn’t Barnum & Bailey, and it was better for it. It seemed like everyone on the staff performed several different roles in the course of a night; ticket taker one minute, leading show horses the next, fire-eating tomorrow. All of this only added to the warmth and intimacy of the experience.
The whole thing was very spontaneous and I had to do a lot of adapting on the fly, but that’s also what made it fun. I remember standing in total darkness behind the curtains with some of the artists and thinking how the hell can I get anything captured with almost no light at all but it worked out. I went to almost every show they had in town.I would be sitting at home, planning on taking the night off but the thought of what I might be missing just kept nagging me, and the next thing you know, I’m halfway down Highway 62. I saw five shows over the week or so that they spent in town, each time trying to find a new angle or idea. One day I even went to the local Home Depot and rented the cherry picker so I was able to capture the whole tent from a different perspective.
I really want to thank the entire Ramos Bros. Circus for so graciously opening their doors to me and letting me spend some time in their world.