Joining Forces: Inside a Chinese & Russian Circus Troupe with Susetta Bozzi

Joining Forces: Inside a Chinese & Russian Circus Troupe with Susetta Bozzi

Every month we’ll feature one photographer from the PhotoShelter community, and share his or her story behind the shots that caught our eye.

  • Photographer: Susetta Bozzi
  • Specialty: Photojournalism
  • Current Location: Beijing
  • Clients: New York Times, Esquire, Vanity Fair, Wall Street Journal
  • PhotoShelter Website:

The Story

Photograph by Susetta Bozzi

In 2009 Susetta Bozzi was in Beijing exploring the abandoned venues of the 2008 Olympic Games, shooting her series “Beijing Empty Icons“. In the midst of her project she was inspired to take on another, when a tiny circus tent hiding in the long shadow cast by the Beijing National Stadium caught her eye and sparked curiosity.

“It seemed a bit incongruous to me, next to all those big, famous sports buildings,” says Susetta of the circus tent. She followed her intuition and stepped in. What she found inside was even more surprising – a circus troupe comprised of both Chinese and Russian artists. “I thought, here we have the ‘victims’ of USSR dissolution – the Russians but also the Kazakh and the Uzbekh horse-riders – and the ‘victims’ of the transformation of China working together!” she says.

Photo by Susetta Bozzi

The troupe Susetta had stumbled upon was the Deyang Circus, which had formed as a result of the bad conditions and lack of work for both the Russian and Chinese circus artists. Deyang’s Russian manager, Galina, explains, “In Russia, we all were doomed to be recruited by nightclubs.” So in the 90’s Galina decided to try her luck in China.

While there, she discovered a troupe based out of Deyang. The troupe, which had just been bought from the State by a private group, reestablished themselves – this time as a bi-cultural circus and cooperating with the Russians.

Photograph by Susetta Bozzi

Over the next month, Susetta returned to the troupe’s main basecamp many times. Sometimes alone, sometimes with a Chinese assistant for translation purposes. With the approval of both the Chinese and Russian managers, Susetta began taking portraits of the artists. Susetta used natural light that poured in from the tent openings for all her shots.

At the beginning, the artists were a bit reluctant to be photographed, but over time her face became familiar and she would catch them in their down time before performances.

Photograph by Susetta Bozzi

Susetta has been studying and exploring photography since 2003, after working for 20 years as a graphic designer. Take a look at the entire series: From Russia to China, The Survival of a Circus.

What caught our eye

This historic form of entertainment feels somewhat forgotten in American culture and Susetta’s series serves as a reminder and an exploration into this rare and somewhat extinct artform. Her balance of portraits and detail shots within the series captures the entire picture of the troupe and their place of work.


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