Freak Shows, also known as sideshows, lasted from about 1850 to the early 1970’s. These were exhibitions of human oddities and exotic performances. The part of the culture that I am focusing on takes place in the early 1900s to 1940s and consisted of the iconic “Freak Show” acts. The displays usually consisted of ten acts and were referred to as ten-in-ones. Ten shows for the price of one admission. Freak shows are broken into two basic categories; the made freaks and born freaks. Born freaks have human deformities. These are acts such as conjoined twins, giants, midgets, and the bearded lady. Made freaks are physically altered individuals. A subset falls under this and consists of strange performances, usually used as filler entertainment. Made freaks would be heavily tattooed, pierced, or would to acts like sword swallowing, fire breathing, or snake charming. As mini attractions, people like fortunetellers, ventriloquists, or magicians often traveled with the sideshow.
Due to the many changes that took place in popular culture and entertainment in the late 60’s, the way freak shows were viewed took a dive. It became taboo and as a whole, Freaks were transformed into objects of sympathy rather than fear or excitement. No longer did society find it kosher to make a spectacle of deformity, oddity, and genetic mutation.
Snake lady- usually an attractive quirky woman that charmed pythons and boas while dancing.
Contortionist- the “elastic” human. They bend their bodies into odd positions.
Bearded Lady- a spectacle of a female with a beard.
Ventriloquist- an act of dark comedy
Sword swallower- well just that. They swallowed up to ten swords at a time
Strongman- usually lifted odd things like barrel kegs, humans, cannons, or more conventional things like large barbells.
Conjoined twins- a display of human deformity
Human pincushion- a heavily pierced person usually with large needles or nails in odd areas of the body
Fortuneteller- usually a gypsy woman that traveled with the show reading palms or looking into crystal balls to see the future
I carefully chose the artifacts in the layouts to display a wide array of acts that would be seen during the time period but also that are iconic of the culture. I chose the acts that people would recognize and identify with immediately. The idea was to show all three sides of the show. The human deformity, physical alteration, and unconventional entertainment. There are nine spreads exhibiting the bearded lady, contortionist, conjoined twins, ventriloquist, fortuneteller, sword swallower, pincushion, snake lady, and strongman. Formally a few guidelines I set up for my spreads were 1) full bleed images and 2) thirds. Each layout consists of two large images that each take up 1/3 and the last compartment is usually divided into three or four smaller images. I feel like the last third makes for nice asymmetry and adds a sense of oddity to the book. It was also an important concideration to make the book cohesive with a unified color pallet that popped but stayed true to the aged imagery. After doing this, knowing where to refine my cover was made obvious. The greens, blacks, cool greys, tans and warm orange-reds were all taken from the spreads and added to my cover. The final cover was composed of an interplay between analog and digital methods of construction.