Peter Lavery is best known for his seductive advertising photography, but for the last 50 years he has been photographing circus performers around Britain. All shot on a plate camera, the work is an impressive collection of circus subjects. These intimately detailed photographs expose moments of ordinariness in extraordinary lives.

Since dropping in on a small indoor circus in his home town of Wakefield in 1968, Peter Lavery has had an enduring interest and passion for the subject.

The son of a Yorkshire miner, Lavery progressed via Leeds Art College to the Royal College of Art in London, where he studied photography. Before finishing his course there, he had already started travelling, and living rough, around the country in search of circuses.
Bruce Bernard

Circus Work is considered one of the most important examples of human and social documentation photography produced in Britain. This was the first exhibition to show the collection from 1968 to 2018.

250 years of Circus

In 1768 the showman, entrepreneur and equestrian rider Philip Astley did something entirely new and utterly extraordinary. He gathered together jugglers, acrobats, clowns, strong men and bareback riders. Then, on an abandoned patch of land near London’s Vauxhall Gardens, he drew out the very first circus ring. This was the world’s first circus; every circus, anywhere began at this moment in 1768.

250 years later, circus is a world-wide phenomenon, touching almost every art form. Any school child will tell you what a circus is, and haven’t we all, at one point or another, secretly thought of running away to join one?

This exhibition celebrated both 250 years of circus and Peter Lavery’s five decade long fascination with it.


Part of Circus250, a UK-wide celebration of 250 years of circus in 2018