London based photographer Luke Stephenson graduated from Blackpool College in 2005, since then he has worked as a freelance photographer having his work published in The New York Times Magazine, Wallpaper, Dazed and Confused, Kilimanjaro and Vice among others.
In 2006 Luke was awarded the Jerwood prize for his series Spectacle Wearing Folk as well as selected as one of ten photographers to take part in the Festival International de Mode et de Photographie, Hyeres. It was discovering his Stanelli Super Circus project though that caught our attention and had to find out more…
Hi Luke, can you tell us how the Stanelli Super Circus project came about?
The Circus puppet pictures came about when I visited the Upfront gallery where the puppets are housed, near Penrith, quite close to my parents’ house. They put on puppet shows at Christmas, Easter and during the summer and I went with a friend and his niece to watch one of these shows and they had all these amazing puppets in a glass cabinet. When I asked about them I was told a wonderful story of a man named Stan Parker who sadly died in 2004, he was from Carlisle and all his life he made Marionette puppets and was quite famous among puppet aficionados and performed his shows around the world. After his death his collection of puppets was sold and split up but John Parkinson of the Upfront gallery applied for lottery funding and managed to acquire over 100 of Stans puppets keeping them together. I loved this story and found the puppets beautiful and odd. The largest set of puppets were the Super Circus set and I wanted to document them and was lucky enough to be able to spend a day photographing Stanelli’s Super Circus.
Were there any challenges when photographing the puppets?
The main challenge was animating them, me and my friend were simply left alone in the theatre to photograph them and had to figure out how they worked. They were just hanging from a pole and looked dead and lifeless, it was only when you started to pull their strings that they ‘came to life’ as it were.