“In the circus,” photographer Gordon Stettinius writes, “reality becomes mutable and life an illusion. . . . Everything is not necessarily what it purports to be. But then, what is?”

Although the photographs on these pages may appear to be of real circus performers, the models are all friends of the photographer. The project began when Stettinius found a collection of early-twentieth-century circus costumes at an estate sale for ten and twenty dollars apiece. His original intent was to revisit a kind of portraiture that was common at the start of the twentieth century, when photographers required stillness on the part of their subjects because of the relative slowness of the picture-taking process at the time. He encouraged his subjects not to play dress-up, but to try to inhabit the behind-the-scenes lives of circus performers.

— Ed.