The Greatest Show on Earth

Curated by Kalev Erickson for PhotoEspaña 2018, The Greatest Show on Earth pays tribute to the circus with a survey of its history, from its golden age in the 19th century to its decline with the triumph of cinema and television.

The circus, during the height of its popularity, attracted huge numbers of people. These audiences were transported into an extraordinary world of pure entertainment and fantasy. There remain very few people who can still recall that experience firsthand, and yet most of us have a perception of what the circus was all about.

The images here are drawn together from assorted collections within the Archive of Modern Conflict and include the obligatory clowns, jugglers, magicians, acrobats, freaks, performing animals, and ringmasters. Always present is the notion of the spectacle and the relentless drive for the evermore fantastic, simultaneously willing success and failure in the name of progress and entertainment. The dance between agony and ecstasy makes compelling viewing and the audience ultimately lives vicariously through the players. It is, perhaps, that same insatiable appetite that drew crowds to watch the nuclear tests in the Nevada desert during the 1950s, or rockets launched for the moon a decade later. This is the same force that has enabled many of mankind’s greatest achievements and, conversely, fuelled its most destructive tendencies, as collectively we risk life and limb.

To coincide with the exhibition, we’ve released the thirteenth issue of AMC²: The Greatest Show on Earth, edited by Kalev Erickson and printed in a numbered edition of 250. 

Copies are available to buy on our website.

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