Floyd M. Wright (1906 – 1985) began his lifelong career in photography at age six working alongside his father, photographer Walter Burton Wright, in his Mason City, Iowa studio. Wright continued learning his skills in this way until he attended The Chicago Academy of Art where he studied commercial art. After returning to Mason City where he opened his own studio, and married Pauline Breese, the two decided the following year, 1934, to follow the circus for six weeks taking these photographs of life behind the scenes. Five years later they moved to Chicago where Mr. Wright taught photography at The Chicago Academy of Art and started a family. It was probably there that he encountered Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton both of whom commented on the “effective use of strength and diffusion” in his pictures. Mr. Wright continued emphasizing depth in his photography with his subtle use of light and shadow. The following year found them living in New York where two more sons and a daughter were born. In 1951 while working in New York for Wheelan Studios he became associated with Harris & Ewing, the exclusive Washington photographers of important public and political figures, where he was director of photography. This gave him the opportunity to photograph President Harry S. Truman and F.B. I. Director J. Edgar Hoover, among others.
Along with their obvious historic value, these black & white circus photographs can now be seen to exhibit their own aesthetic achievement reflecting the film noir movement of the times that grew out of German Expressionism, but to anticipate certain aspects of future photographers of the 1960’s, some thirty years later, most notably Diane Arbus. What makes this even more noteworthy and of a somewhat poignant interest is that Mr. Wright’s second son, Bruce Wright, became one of Arbus’s most well-known and infamous subjects.
My father loved the circus. As a young boy growing up in northern Iowa before WWI, a caravan of trains came through town every summer, unloaded just beyond the station by an open field and eventually paraded down Main Street with horse drawn wagons and elephants and camels and clowns and exotic performers, while the razorbacks and roustabouts set up those enormous canvas tents, bringing their magic to an otherwise ordinary life. Sometime in his late teens he was offered a job with a circus traveling in Europe. My grandmother said no, so my father stayed home and continued to work with his father in the photography business. Ten years later the recently married photographer accompanied by his new bride, my mother, followed the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus for six weeks as they traveled throughout Iowa. The photographs in this book document his behind the scenes look at life in the circus for the performers and roustabouts. It is a testament to his love for the extraordinary world that was circus life at the time and to his talent as a photographer. - Brooks Wright