Created in 1973–74 and previously unpublished in English in its entirety, Circus Sideshow, by Czech-born American photojournalist Antonin Kratochvil (born 1947), offers an amazing pageant of tightrope walkers, jugglers, snake women, giants, dwarves, contortionists and fire eaters at a circus in Gibsonton, Florida, a small coastal town near Tampa.
The town was then known as a winter vacation hotspot for circuses, a place to recharge before setting out on their spring and summer cross-country tours.
Visiting the mobile homes, caravans and trailers of the performers, and walking through their narrow alleys and circus tents, Kratochvil was able to photograph freely and intimately, and his black-and-white photographs testify to his vision of them as people expelled from society, but [who] were able to maintain their dignity. In 1974 he sent his photographs to the New York editorial office of American Photo, which the magazine’s art director, Jean-Jacques Naudet, printed as a ten-page report. Circus Sideshow documents an amazing lost American subculture.
Antonín Kratochvíl was born in Czechoslovakia in 1947, the son of a local photographer, and the youngest of three children. On September 13, 1967, unable to endure the persecution in his homeland, he escaped under the barbed wire of the country's border with Austria. A four-year period of refugee camps, hostile foreign countries, and separation from family and friends ensued. In 1972, Kratochvíl moved to the United States' West Coast to begin work as an editorial photographer and photojournalist. Practicing in the tradition of humanist photography, he has since captured countless pictures around the world of social unrest and war, documenting people in extreme situations and crisis conditions. The inhuman situation of children in economically weak parts of the globe is a topic returned to frequently. In the essay that accompanies this retrospective of his life's work, fellow photo- and print journalist Michael Persson notes that Kratochvíl's accomplishments have been a retracing in pictorial form of his own hellish life. He has chosen to document those who are alone, forgotten, reviled and punished, much in the same way that he himself was treated. This volume is the first to provide an overview of his thematically organized publications Broken Dream, Mercy, Incognito and Sopravvivere.