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Fiona Morris: Shania, 11 yrs at Stardust Circus in Taree

Australians have long been entertained by a variety of travelling show people for well over a hundred years: from carnivals and sideshows through to circuses. Many of these troupes are still operated by the families that set them up all those years ago.
The children are third and fourth generation circus performers and attend school via correspondence, often forging relationships within the circus community. From a young age they learn the tricks of their family business that have been passed down through the generations before them.

Fiona Morris‘ series Travelling Show Families is a work in progress that began in 2009 as a way of learning about the younger generation born into this lifestyle. She made contact through the head of the circus – usually a grandparent – before driving out to meet them in the town that they were passing through. She has spent time with 5-6 families so far during the start of this long-term project, moving away from her usual candid style toward posed portraiture, inspired by her Mamiya 7.

Her new work builds on previous explorations of women adorned.

“I have done a lot of work with women and girls. I suppose I wanted to show the transition stage between childhood and adulthood with young female performers and what changes as they mature in the public arena,” she said.

Morris would help them choose an outfit and their mother usually helps with their makeup prior to the portrait being made.

“I want to move away from just getting shots actually at the circus to show more of what town the circus was passing through.”

The Head On Portrait Prize 2011 finalist image was made during a scorching day at the Stardust Circus as it occupied Taree. Stardust circus was created in 1993 with the uniting of the Lennon and West Family. Both families have a long history and tradition with the circus dating back to the 1890s. Presently Stardust Circus is Australia’s largest circus with animals. Eleven-year-old Shania is a fourth generation circus performer specialising in Teeper Board (springboard) acrobatics.

Morris has recently had her first child and intends to revisit the girls as they grow and begin the next generation of circus families.


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