Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The striped man

click photo to enlarge
The other day, whilst walking along the South Bank in London, I came upon more "living statues" in one place than I've ever seen before. Amongst other represen-
tations there was a jolly pirate, a monochrome frontiersman, a golden Eastern mystic/warrior, what looked like a terracotta alchemist, and this striped man.

Being a living statue is an interesting occupation! It has its origins in the eighteenth century. Rich landowners would pay people to dress up as Pan, Cupid, or some other well-known figure, and they would have to strike poses at various places, particularly when the host was entertaining guests. Often they would be dressed and made-up to simulate stone or metal. Peter Greenaway's marvellous film, "The Draughtsman's Contract", illustrates this well. In the nineteenth century this art form could be seen at fairs and circuses.

Today living statues are a fairly common street entertainment, particularly found in city centres and tourist areas, alongside jugglers, fire-eaters, mime artists, and the like. The attraction for the spectator is in admiring the skill of the deception, and in looking for movement - with the best performers only the eyes move! Children love them, and enjoy the delicious fright they get when the statue finally comes to life! But what's the attraction for the performer? Fun and income? Probably. Earning money by doing literally nothing? Could be! I suppose it's a job to be done and enjoyed for a while, before moving on to something else, though I don't see much opportunity for career progression in this line of work! Hang on - earning money by doing literally nothing? They could become politicians!

I took a few shots of this particularly striking living statue. In this one I tried to emphasise the entertainment angle by positioning myself so that the background photographer was standing on the statue's hand. It nearly worked! However, the reason I chose the striped man over the other characters was for the odd effect of the black and white figure against the colour of the background. It makes an agreeably disconcerting image.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen