Photography of Clowns International, Grimaldi Church Service in London
Each year at All Saints Church in Haggerston, East London, the Grimaldi Service, takes place on the first Sunday in February, this is all organised through Clowns International.
Joseph Grimaldi 1778-1837 is credited with founding the modern idea of the clown in England. Members of the public are encouraged to attend but the central pews are left for the clowns.
In 2020 I thought I would get to the church early and set up a tight portrait space, with studio lighting and black background to make the clowns colourful costumes and faces stand out.
I was pleased with the results and the uncluttered look of the images, which I feel focuses more on the personality of the clowns. By the time the service started the church was absolutely packed, so I had to work fast to capture as many images as possible.
One of the most interesting aspects of the day was to have an opportunity for several conversations with the clowns themselves, and to hear about their personal life stories, and what had brought them to clowning.
I used a Leica M240, 35mm Summilux and Elinchrom flash (with an Octa softbox).
I have offered the portraits to the clowns for their own web pages.
2023 Photography of the Grimaldi Service in London
The 2023 service in Haggerston made for a much busier day than three years before. As it was the first service for a few years, it was very well attended by the public and clowns alike, this brought a gaggle of press photographers too, so it was much more of a scrum than last time. The trick as always was to try and take portraits of the clowns without the public appearing in the background so that it isn’t the same photograph as everyone else has taken.
There is a church hall next door where the clowns get ready and rehearse, which is a great place to start, and you can chat to them about their careers etc which allows you to take closer more considered, and less paparazzi style portrait photographs.
Tweedy the clown was also here this year, and I congratulated him on his recent BEM medal, to be presented by the King in the very near future!
Some clowns are loud and gregarious, some are quieter and perhaps more musical, both are a fun challenge to photograph in different ways. The gregarious types pose for every camera, so its harder to get a unique portrait, whereas the quieter clowns can look a bit uncomfortable, hence its good to chat earlier in the day, and perhaps get a friendly glance or gesture during the hustle and bustle later.
Clowns of all ages are there for the service, older more experienced clowns stealing the show, whereas the children ride unicycles or juggle.
I’m really pleased two of my clown portraits were chosen by Leica Fotografie International for their gallery. The photograph of Tweedy walking down the stairs (image below) was awarded a ‘Master Shot’ title and the portrait of Tweedy on his unique unicycle was included in the portraits gallery. It’s great to have your images recognised by Leica in this way.
Critique of 2023 clown photographs from fellow photographer –
What I notice and like in particular is the way subjects are isolated despite the chaos of numerous photographers trying to get close to the same subjects.
There is a feeling of space and peace in some of your pics that is extraordinary given the photographic situation in which we were operating. Even where you do move in closer I find the portraits also have a sense of space. An important part of this is how creative you are with the positioning of yourself and your camera. For example, you catch subjects up above isolated against a kind of balcony and drop down low to catch another against the trees and sky.
In consequence of your creativity you have produced a set with pleasing variety that speaks to the individuality of the clown’s existence; also, that part of their lives as individual performers in a world that no longer appreciates what they have to offer. A world weighed down with technology and speed with little patience for performers committed to sustaining an individual presence over time.
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