Picks and Pans Review: Circus Dreams

UPDATED 08/19/1991 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 08/19/1991 at 01:00 AM EDT

Photographs by Lynn Goldsmith

There are no sideshow freaks or burned-out performers here. This is a different circus world than the bizarre subculture photographer Diane Arbus recorded or the often grueling labor of love Jill Freedman depicted in her 1975 Circus Days.

This book is more the vision of an eager spectator who also happens to be a skilled photographer.

It follows the annual cavalcade of 75 antique circus wagons aboard flat-cars from their yearlong home at the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wis., (hometown of the Ringling brothers), to Milwaukee. There people moonlighting from various circuses put on a three-ring show. Goldsmith, best known for photographing such pop music stars as Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Sting and, most recently, New Kids on the Block, records the event with a gee-whiz enthusiasm.

The photos of the circus train passing through farmland make you want to break into "America the Beautiful." Clowns with names like Boppee and Bones grin away. Lions and elephants perform. The big parade in Milwaukee includes 700 horses, 250 clowns, marching bands, a bicycle built for six and enough glitter and feathers to have sustained Liberace for a year.

Amid all this oompah-pah there are only a few peeks behind the scenes, and those aren't inspired so much as quietly amusing: One circus performer appears to be adjusting her wrist tapes with her teeth, another is fixing the bra of her costume, a few bare-chested men in Lawrence of Arabia headwear read a local paper.

What keeps the book from being merely an expensive souvenir program is Goldsmith's ability to translate her sentimental view into colorful, glorifying photographs. Her text, sprinkled through the book, also stresses the circus's romantic side: "This is not just another parade. This is our heritage in the form of an heirloom that when dusted and polished belongs to us all." (Rizzoli, $17.50)

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