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One Way to Become a Pro Photographer: Join the Circus

British Photog Uses Camera Like a Passport

Author: Reilly Capps/Friday, June 7, 2013/Categories: photography

By Reilly Capps 

In the world-shakingly important field of photography, some start with a fancy degree. Some start with a job in a newspaper. 

Emily Ainsworth, from Oxford, England, joined a Mexican circus. 

To be sure, she had taken photos before. But she was traveling in Mexico and, she has said, joined the circus in order to delay her flight home. She was quickly transformed into "Princess Aurora," a dancer done-up in makeup and corset. 

Her photographs of Mexican circus performers have turned out to be beautiful, intimate portraits of a very unusual subculture, and helped her become a National Geographic Explorer. She came back with photos of a geek biting off the head of a kitten (apparently), trapeze artists on the brink of disaster (apparently), and delicate dancers draped in (apparently) feathers. Her photos show the strange and sometimes otherworldly beauty of the performers, alongside the mundane circus world of trucks, ropes and trailers. They are almost magical, as circuses are supposed to be. Ainsworth said that most of the photos she saw of circus performers showed the circus community as sad and depressed and poor, but that's not how the performers see it. 

"I'm always trying to see people as they see themselves," she said. 

How did she earn such great access? 

"When I first joined the circus community, I was so naive and stupid and bumbling that i just came across as really vulnerable," Ainsworth said recently. "The camera was a tool for me to negotiate my surroundings." 

When venturing into strange worlds, a camera can be a passport, a calling card, a letter of introduction. Most people are flattered when you ask to take their picture. Everybody thinks they are beautiful in their own way. Everybody is right.
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