It was in December 1988 that a German producer I had met while photographing the clown Jango Edwards, asked if I’d be interested in doing a poster for a crazy French circus he was bringing to Berlin. “Okay for the circus!”, I replied. We took an appointment at a vacant lot near the Metro stop Alexandre Dumas in Paris where the big top had been erected. I arrived a half an hour before the show and couldn’t find Pierrot, the man I was looking for. “He’s at the bar next door”, replied the ticket girl.
That’s the day my adventures with Archaos began. These people enchanted, hypnotized me! Being with them is like life on another planet. Mars on earth. Oddly enough, it would not always be me who would capture them with my lens, but they who would capture me. With this “circus of character” I was being engulfed by their charismatic energy. The more I pushed myself to decipher their essence, the more the fantasy came alive. By integrating myself into their “galaxy” I would be living out my boyhood reveries.
I did the shot for the poster and then started doing portraits of the characters. More followed. But even with an informal introduction to the group by Pierrot, their mentor, some shied away from the camera. Those same people, after seeing the portraits of others, came to me ready to pose. I had been accepted into their family. For it is a family we’re talking about. A house with no walls where these nomads live and warm themselves together.
I began to travel with Archaos. To Granada, Berlin, Edinburgh, London … I slept in a truck, in the back seat of a car, under the big top. We ate, drank and laughed together. I served at times as their translator, their mascot, their nanny. I shared their problems, I lived their life.
Their performances in the tent were extraordinary.
But it was not the show that interested me photographically. It’s the transitional state between their daily lives and the fantastic characters they portray that I was after.
Until now, they had only seen photos of themselves during the performance. They liked seeing how I saw them.
When I’m with Archaos, nothing else exists. The time and place don’t matter, only the magic of their transportable microcosm. A universe both fragile and protected, with it’s codes and rites. I never had the impression of being solely an observer, even less a voyeur, because once adopted, I was really one of them.
These artists taught me allot about man, about society, and about myself.
You can set out to do a photograph with a clear cut idea in your mind’s eye, but it is in the transitional period of the realization where it all happens. There is an unconscious metamorphosis in the creative act which does and must exist. The link or missing link between intention and the realization is always an enigma to me.
Marcel Duchamp described it as often being: ” … the unexpressed but intended and the unintentionally expressed”.
My portraits of Archaos are a perception of reality that sheds a light on our temporal existence.