Ironically, I’ve long shied away from photographing juggling – despite, or perhaps because – it’s the circus skill I know most about. I was recently taken outside my comfort zone when Sean Gandini asked me to photograph the premiere of their latest show Spring.
Here’s how it came about..
Once upon a time all I wanted to do was be a mathematician. As a young & thrusting chap it seemed obvious to me that the best place to do that kind of thing was Cambridge University.
So off I toddled.. and when I got there I discovered that (a) I wasn’t quite as good at maths as I thought I was and (b) there are more interesting things in life. One of those things was hot air ballooning. Cambridge was one of a small number of universities to have a hot-air ballooning society. Not because it was a place of wealth and privilege; it just happened to have a ballooning-obsessed mature student with his own balloon. I steadily got drawn in to the wonderful world of unpowered flight, only to find that balloons only fly when it is really quite still. That tends to mean first thing in the morning and last thing before sundown. Consequently there’s not much to do all day; a few of the pilots I knew juggled to pass the time.
Fast forward a few years..
Juggling and circus had become a major part of my life, a complete obsession. I got reasonably good and started to get interested in those who were doing interesting things with the skill. Sean Gandini was foremost amongst those – one of the most skilled jugglers in the world, he’d seemingly got bored with pure juggling and wanted to see what else he could do with it – particularly involving contemporary dance. That led to a collaboration with the renowned choreographer Gill Clarke and a quirky piece called nEither Either botH and. Some jugglers struggled to understand and appreciate what they’d seen; I’m not sure what dancers made of it. It included segments generated at random, counting, awkward disassembled patterns, hypnotic solos where objects were manipulated around the body and a certain amount of rolling around on the floor.
Moving on a little further..
Chloë & I were introduced to Sean & Kati via a mutual friend and we spent a day playing / auditioning with them. It was at a transitional point in our performing career – the opportunity was amazing but it was kind of clear that we weren’t quite right for each other at that time.
After numerous years performing, teaching and directing acrobalance, stilts & juggling a number of things started to get in the way. Children, time, motivation and injuries all became issues. After a particularly nasty wrist injury I picked up a camera for the first time in 20 years – and found that I enjoyed photographing circus skills nearly as much as doing them. I’d always shied away from juggling, though. It’s a fascinating thing to do and can be amazing to watch but to reduce it to a still image seems to me to lose much of the essence. It is possible to do interesting things with motion blur but then you lose the juggler’s perspective; jugglers don’t see things as a blur, they see each object in turn in a precise position & orientation in space.
Sean had seen some of my photos and so when the premiere of their new show was in Cambridge he invited me to point my camera at it. I was initially reluctant – I’m comfier in the studio where I have much more control – but I’m so pleased I did it.
The show itself really harked back to the Gandini Juggling company’s roots. Spring had a lot in common with nEither Either botH and. Juggling patterns disassembled and reassembled in unusual ways, awkward synchronised and/or syncopated movements, long quiet or quirky sections laden with humour, all combined with a thoroughly abstract mathematician’s sense of spaces and how they relate to one another. I suspect it is one of their most challenging performances to date – it’s not the most accessible but it is certainly rewarding to watch and to be a small part of.
Photographing the show was a major technical challenge, too. It’s very fast moving, often rather dark and the broken movement phrases are exceedingly difficult to anticipate. Most of the images were taken at ISOs of 6400 or higher; just a few years they wouldn’t have been possible.
The images are largely lightly processed, as befits the nature of the performance. I hope you like them as much as I enjoyed making them. Please click here for the full gallery.