Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Wednesday morning: Phil Busse/circus
People sometimes ask me what I'm doing in my little studio. I say that I am enjoying a sabbatical, taking stock of the change happening in the world, contemplating what I have to bring to the world that has value, keeping my powder dry, but that doesn't seem to be what people are looking for.
"Yeah, but what do you do?"
Well, I started today with a meeting with Phil Busse, the former editor of the Portland Mercury and one time Portland mayoral candidate. My friend Robyn who produces Livewire, she connected us. I hadn't done my homework, because I had know idea of the trouble Phil had gotten himself into in the last couple of weeks.
Phil told me that while in Minnesota teaching at St. Olaf college, he and a girlfriend yanked out some McCain yard signs late one night in a fit of "sophomoric" passion. He later found out that a kid had gotten shot doing the same thing, and that inspired Phil to write a piece about sign-stealing in which he confessed to his crime.
It blew up from there. The story was picked up everywhere from the New York Times to FOX, Phil had to resign from St. Olaf, he's going back to Minnesota next week to face charges from the country sheriff's office.
I'm not sure the lesson I learned from hearing the story, but I can personally relate to doing something stupid and the repercussions being more serious than I ever expected.
Speaking of which, I spent the rest of my morning doing research on the identity project for Stacy Wall and Doug Halbert's new production company. They've changed the name of their company, because a blog post of mine alerted someone who challenged their right to use the name mentioned in my blog. While Doug and Stacy were reassured by lawyers, Stacy didn't want the beginnings of his new company to be associated with a legal hassle. Good call, I think.
So this time I will leave it to those guys to announce the name, but I am comfortable revealing that my research involves the history of the circus, and I am having too much fun.
Yesterday I bought this mammoth book from Taschen called "The Circus 1870 - 1950." It is gorgeous. I included a quarter in the shot so you can see how big the thing is.
The project also gave me an excuse to borrow an incredible collection of photos from Jeff Williams.
A few years ago I was in Ashland, Oregon working on a documentary for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and I stopped into a small used book shop. Sometimes if I get a good vibe from the person working at a place like that, I might ask, "Do you have anything special?"
This particular person smiled and brought out a photo album with 145 black and white photos.
The note on the album read: Collection of Circus Photos from a "Circus Advance Man's" collection from 1940s and '50s - He went ahead of the Traveling Circuses to set up the advertising, site prep, etc. During the circus he took photos and traded for them.
I came back to Portland and told Jeff Williams about it and he called them right away and bought it.
The photos are so evocative and beautiful. Private photos of circus workers, a man herding elephants in an empty field somewhere in the deep south, trapeze artists practicing alone, black workers driving tent poles while jacked-up kids wander by.