When I attend a circus performance with my family, I find that I rapidly become very overwhelmed by the brilliant and dazzling colors of the performers clothes, sets and background, the high energy of the performances and the very intense lighting that commands my attention. The performances themselves are a series of blurs, of which it seems that the impossible is indeed possible, but I am unable to fathom how it is even possible that these feats can really be accomplished. Bertil Nilsson literally reveals the essence of these performers orchestrated movements in his first book Undisclosed: Images of the Contemporary Circus Artist.
This is a five-year project by Nilsson that has taken him to multiple (undisclosed) locations in Europe and North America. His subjects are circus performers, artists that have trained diligently to take them to the top of their game. It was his intent to photograph his subjects not within a circus performance site, but at more intimate and less theatric places. These are training locations for the circus performers to hone their performance skills. In so doing, it enabled Nilsson to study the performance of the actors and segment their movements into the components and elements to make visible the nearly invisible. Nilsson photographed his subjects in the nude, who are essentially disclosed, or maybe dis-clothed, as to further reveal the athletic tension that under-girds their movements. I find that Nilsson’s photographs of his subjects are an exotic blend of beauty, strength, grace and sensuality.
Nilsson chooses to vary his perspective, framing and exposure to create a complex and dynamic narrative which is illustrated in black & white. Reducing the color to a long tonal range of black & white further abstracts this project and seems to extend the flow of lines, extract textures, masses and other graphic shapes and forms. The framing of his subjects varies from a balanced (and static) centering within the frame to compositions where his subjects are falling out of the frame, their truncated bodies creating suspense and tension (and energy). Nilsson also varies the distance within the composition, sometimes to tight that his subjects appear to burst off the page, while in others, the mid-view distant establishes an external environmental context in which these performers train.
Predominately Nilsson chooses to suspend the animation of his subjects, halting them in mid-flight or at the apex of their move, thus allowing the viewer to see the nearly impossible. When his subjects are frozen in this manner, they take on a momentary sculptural form. I find equally fascinating the abstracted images that occur with the long duration exposure, in which his subject’s movements become a soft flowing blur and do not seem as static.
On occasion Nilsson will catch his subjects in a candid repose during a work-out, as they pause and momentarily relax in order to catch their breath or composure. Interweaving these photographs of the performers pausing also breaks up the intensity of the flow of images and provides a likewise rest for the reader, while further communicating the sheer intensity of his subject’s performance.
Daniele Finzi Pasca in the Foreword states the essence of this book very elegantly, “When a gesture is interrupted in mid-arc, it inner silence becomes audible. The body becomes landscape and nudity renders it more transparent, weightless and enigmatic….there is a great deal of silence, it is alike a metaphor for the intimacy of the body, which touches our hearts as it strains to represent its own ideal”
As noted above, the Foreword is provided by Daniele Finzi Pasca, and the essay by Laura Noble with an acknowledgment by Bertil Nilsson. The Foreword and essay texts are provided in English and French.
Book object: the book is case-bound hardcover with an illustration print affixed to the front cover, printed and bound in the Netherlands. The black and white plates have been printed in duotone offset and the ink and paper combination appear to look as thought the images have been lacquered, providing a wonderful visual vibrancy of these interior photographs. The paper has a heavy hand, almost sensual to the touch. Page numbering is provided without captions, with information about the performers and locations provided in a back index. I perceived this book to be a very elegant object.