Thursday, 28 February 2019

Peng Xiangjie | The Wandering Tent

Renyao ("ladyboys") Photo © Peng Xiangjie | All Rights Reserved
The origins of the circus are debatable; some say that circuses date to Roman times with horse and chariot races, equestrian shows, staged battles, gladiatorial combat and displays of (and fights with) trained animals....whilst others say the circuses as we know them today originated in England, and started by a Philip Astley in 1768.

In common with my current long term project of documenting the unsophisticated Chinese opera troupes, I imagined that Chinese circuses offer an enormous disparity between the "glitz" of the shows and the ordinariness - and shabbiness - of its backstages.

And it is the backstages' ordinariness and seediness that are so photogenic! 

It is with delight that I explored The Wandering Tent; the work of Peng Xinagjie (彭祥杰/简历 ), a Chinese photographer, whose monochromatic work of rural circuses in Shaanxi, Gansu, and Inner Mongolia. 

Peng is said to have dedicated himself thoroughly to a single project at a time. For The Wandering Tent, he followed one specific troupe during their tour, befriended the performers and returned to their village, in order to get an a deeper insight into their background.

This specific project was started in 1992, when he followed a circus performers company to witness the life of jugglers, acrobats, dancers and singers; with a special interest in the quirky characters that are the circus world’s soul: the dwarves, strippers, and the snake women to mention but a few.

Similar to Chinese Opera, rural circuses in China will soon be a thing of the past in the face of technology and modernity.

How I wish I could that with a rural Chinese Opera troupe!

Peng Xinagjie started his photography by focusing on rural daily life and funerary ceremonies in Shaanxi in Central China. His photographs are taken by a Mamiya from the 70s and are printed in his dark room.