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Theater of the Everyday: Photographs by Paul Margolis


Manhattan often seems like a stage where performers and exhibitionists of all varieties put on a non-stop show. I started documenting these “performers” in 2008, as the U.S. slid into a recession.

I needed something to distract myself from the increasingly grim economic news, so I began to seek out small-venue circus acts, magicians and clowns to photograph. After a few months of photographing organized performances, I started to see theater everywhere: in the streets, in public spaces, in the subway, at festivals where people showed off costumes, in Times Square, at political demonstrations…the spectacle was endless.

I worked with my quiet, discreet Leica camera, photographing in a fluid, fast-moving style that suited the mercurial nature of my subjects. All of these photographs were taken between 2008 and 2014.

 

Clowns about to perform, Ilford Delta 3200 Professional at 1600, Kodak HC-110 Dil. B

Clowns about to perform, Ilford Delta 3200 Professional at 1600, Kodak HC-110 Dil. B

Circus Amok Central Park, Kodak T-Max 3200 at 1600, Kodak HC-110 Dil. B

Circus Amok Central Park, Kodak T-Max 3200 at 1600, Kodak HC-110 Dil. B

1920s jazz Festival, Ilford HP5 at 320, Kodak HC-110 Dil. H

1920s jazz Festival, Ilford HP5 at 320, Kodak HC-110 Dil. H

 

As an observer who tries to be as inconspicuous as possible, I’m drawn to those brave individuals who display themselves and are able to escape from the constraints of the mundane world, at least for a little while.

At first, I worked with both digital and film cameras, but finally I settled on using only film.

There was something very old-fashioned about street performers, acts on seedy stages, or wildly-costumed individuals in the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade that called out for a photographic medium from the pre-electronic age.

 

Winged Figure, Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, Ilford HP5, 320, HC110 Dil. H

Winged Figure, Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, Ilford HP5, 320, HC110 Dil. H

Juggler, Clown Revue, Ilford Delta 3200 Professional at 1600, HC110 Dil. B

Juggler, Clown Revue, Ilford Delta 3200 Professional at 1600, HC110 Dil. B

Performer hammering a 6-inch nail up his nose, Fuji Neopan 1600 at 800, HC110 Dil. H

Performer hammering a 6-inch nail up his nose, Fuji Neopan 1600 at 800, HC110 Dil. H

 

My projects have included documenting the small Jewish communities of Cuba and Ireland, as well as Jewish poverty in New York City. In the wake of September 11, 2001, I recorded the effects of the destruction of the World Trade Center on New York.

I also did the photography for a historical guidebook to the Lower East Side of Manhattan that was published by Columbia University Press in 2009.

Currently, I’m documenting individuals who re-enact the wars of the 20th century.

 

Performers at a revue, Kodak T-MAX 3200 at 1600, HC-110 Dil. B

Performers at a revue, Kodak T-MAX 3200 at 1600, HC-110 Dil. B

Superheroine, Times Square, Ilford Delta 3200 Professional at 1600, Ilford DD-X

Superheroine, Times Square, Ilford Delta 3200 Professional at 1600, Ilford DD-X

Carriage driver and horse share a carrot, Ilford FP4 at 100, Rodinal 1:50 with flash

Carriage driver and horse share a carrot, Ilford FP4 at 100, Rodinal 1:50 with flash

 

All of the photographs were made on black and white film that I processed and printed myself, both for the timeless, classic appearance of that medium and its permanence as a historical record. Each image is a unique, hand-made object that can never be duplicated exactly, which is a large part of the beauty of traditional black and white photography.

Photo Note: All of the photographs were made with a Leica M4P and 35mm Summicron lens and you can see more of my work at: www.paulmargolis.com

~ Paul Margolis


About The Author

Paul Margolis

Paul Margolis first picked up a camera at the age of 9. He is a largely self-taught documentary and fine art photographer whose subjects include people living on the margins of society, vanishing Americana, historic architecture, and the vibrancy of life on New York City’s streets.

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