We all have childhood memories of the circus: exotic animals, daring artists and funny clowns. This is the sunny side of the circus, which is shown to the visitor. In reality, the circus business is not very glamorous: companies are facing ever-increasing costs, high regulatory requirements, protests from animal rights activists, and fighting for the favor of spectators, who can now choose from a huge range of entertainment and events.
White Horse Black Rider, 2018, by Oliver Stegmann
Many artists dream of working for a large, renowned circus company in the world. The competition among the acrobats is huge, only very few make it to the top. They expose themselves to the dangers of injury on a daily basis, have to help with the set-up and dismantling, often live for months separated from their families and all this for little fame and reward.
Torsion, 2016, by Oliver Stegmann
The circus world is changing – the traditional travelling circus is threatened with extinction and with it the existence of many artists. Without even talking about Covid-19. “Some of the circus companies I photographed no longer exist.” In this long-term project, Oliver Stegmann has photographed the spectacle behind the curtain both in Switzerland and abroad in countries such as the USA or Cuba in several circuses (e.g. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, Nock, Knie, Royal, Salto Natale, Conelli, Harlekquin and Helvetia). The backstage was his "stage". He always photographs spontaneously and instinctively, he does not let the protagonists pose. He chose on purpose not to show any photos of the performance in the circus ring itself.
Spinning Plates, 2011, by Oliver Stegmann
Oliver Stegmann wants to introduce the viewer to a world that is invisible to the spectators of a circus show. The roller coaster of the protagonists' feelings when they are not in the spotlight. The mysterious, sparse light behind the manege. The calm intensity of the introverted artists. The unexpected, magical moments that suddenly arise and never happen again. This project pays homage to the fascinating world of the travelling circuses and their artists.
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was born in 1970 in Basel, Switzerland. Since his late teen years, photography has become a key medium to express himself. Professionally, however, he took a different path, studying economics and now working in a management position. He is married and a father of two daughters.
From early on, Oliver Stegmann was fascinated by the phenomenon that a photo can capture a unique situation which might never come back. A powerful photograph becomes a true gift of the moment when it manages to capture some sort of mystery or magic.
He has always had a passion for observing people. Their emotions, facial expressions, interactions, activities and personal moments. For Oliver Stegmann, photographing people is a way to communicate with them. Great masters of street and documentary photography like William Klein, Eugene W. Smith, Robert Frank or Josef Koudelka have very much inspired his way of taking pictures.
“I love music, but I have never played an instrument. So the camera has become the "instrument" for my creative work: I compose images instead of songs.» On many trips to different continents, he has continuously worked on improving his skills as a photographer and on developing his own visual language. He participated in various workshops of well-known photographers such as Mary Ellen Mark, Anders Petersen or Ernesto Bazan. «I prefer black and white photography because leaving out the colors, the way we usually see the world, directs the viewer's eye to the essence of the image.”
Until 2007 he photographed exclusively with black-and-white film and made all prints in his own darkroom. He then started scanning the negatives, editing them in Photoshop and creating fine art prints. Two years later, he started to also use digital cameras.
His long-term project on circuses behind the scenes was published as a photo book with the title CIRCUS NOIR in 2021. In his latest project, he documents the passions that people pursue in their free time in associations and clubs.