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The Mudshow Diaries

© Valerie Berta


It's about making sure my kids stay away from the elephants, catching beauty at my doorsteps, trying to find the laundromat in a strange town, documenting a disappearing way of life built around strong ties: A diary kept over five years of traveling with a circus in America became a journey in motherhood and photography, along with an odyssey into the country's forgotten paths and the circus' hidden world.   Along the way it also became a journey in belonging - in discovering my family in a fleeting cast, reluctantly, and of finding acceptance, slowly, in this close-knit family that is the circus - love unfurled by tenuous chance, as on a tightrope.  

The diary follows the Kelly Miller Circus, a mosaic of people from around the world who live, work and travel together, from Texas to Massachusetts and back again, for nine months out of the year, seven days a week.  My husband is an acrobat; I followed him into another life.  On the road we had two sons, and I recorded, through both text and photographs, my life as a new mother intertwined with the life of an American tribe fast slipping into oblivion.

The circus is a way of life, an insular culture and one of the oldest traditions in America.  It has been documented many times before but never quite revealed.  The iconic images of Mary Ellen Mark and Bruce Davidson are well known; they leave us with a sense of the quirky and sometimes grotesque, but not of our common bond with the people behind the proverbial muddy shows.  Similarly, being on the road is a quintessential American trait, and tales and images abound.  This project opens a unique window into these worlds through a mother who is also a writer and a photographer.

click to view the complete set of images in the archive

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