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21 April 2010 @ 11:37 am
Circus Fat Men (NSFW)  
mudcub alerted me to Sideshow World's page on Fat Folks. Throughout the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, people with all sorts of physical challenges and differences earned their livings as sideshow entertainers in the traveling fairs and circuses which criss-crossed Europe and the United States. Their numbers included the "fat folk," men and women far larger than the average of their day.

One profitable income-enhancer for sideshow entertainers was to sell small, post-card sized "cabinet cards" with their own images. Visitors could buy these cards as they exited the tents, sometimes signed by the performers. These marketing tools served as souvenirs and free publicity. Many survive today, and these numerous cards open a small window into the ways in which entertainers chose to present themselves.

One thing which appeals to me about late 19th/early 20th century cabinet cards is how dignified the men look.

Circus fat man Egon Cannon and his brother.

New York photographer Charles Eisenmann and his assistant/successor Frank Wendt made many posed studio images of sideshow entertainers, such as George James (below.) A large collection of Eisenmann photos has been amassed by the University of Syracuse in New York.

These Gilded-Age era photographers also produced nude images of their entertainer subjects, such as Chauncy Morlan (whom I wrote about earlier.)

I don't suspect these nudes were for general circulation. But I think there must have been curiosity about fat people, especially as the sideshows often featured "fat families" (not necessarily related in real life) or "marriages" like the Fat Lady and Skeleton man (or a fat couple.) No doubt there was a certain amount of prurience ("How do they ... do it?") Even the attitude of curiosity, however, seems to me better in some ways than over-medicalization.

maxauburn: Me April 20-2010maxauburn on April 21st, 2010 08:48 pm (UTC)
Very nice!

I like the first pic of the two brothers best.

Hope you're feeling well today.
Heather K.: gerik oohshinyopera_wench on April 22nd, 2010 12:21 am (UTC)
Chauncy Morlan looks a little ticked off. Or humiliated. I'm not sure which, but either one, it sort of seems like he's posing for those pics rather grudgingly. The first one is vaguely sensual, but by the third pic, it really has become more of a coldly observational "medical" exhibit, so reluctance on his part to participate in the shoot really wouldn't surprise me.