• Mark Cator

Tribes, rituals and customs


I spent a spellbinding afternoon photographing the Hippodrome Circus in Great Yarmouth. Afterwards Ben Jay [his family run the circus] showed me the excellent work of two other photographers recording the life of the Hippodrome, David Morris and Graham Brandon. I checked out their websites and Graham has recently been out to the Omo Valley in Ethiopia to photograph the diversity of tribes in the area.

As one thing leads to another I picked up on a Guardian article on the question of turning the people of the Omo Valley in to a cultural zoo. It's always been a strange paradox for me in that the more 'cultured' we become in our sophisticated society, the less we want to be associated with culture, then we travel to the ends of the world like an impatient collective to witness the cultures of others, hopefully untainted by the sophisticates of modernity. Cultural 'twitchers' notching up successes on Instagram, recording the vanishing, observing extinction, collecting voraciously before the global non-culture sweeps all aside in a tsunami of ordinariness.

The irony is ritual and ceremony are on our doorstep, deemed outmoded, surplus to requirements. When I worked on Keepers [published in 2013 with two co-authors, Julian Calder & Alastair Bruce], I discussed the project with a friend, he exclaimed that a book on the ancient offices of Britain was elitist, stuffy, traditional ceremony, etc, but at the same time he was keen to talk about his recent trip to Tibet and their elitist, stuffy, traditional ceremonies.

The living theatre of history is the stuff of life in all cultures, worthy of celebration and respect. Going back to Graham Brandon's work from the Omo Valley, his photographs portray a culture rich in tradition, under threat from corporate enthusiasm and frenzied tourism, the last vestiges of lives lived beyond the claustrophobia of global hegemony.

And finally back to the circus ... If you have time to visit the Hippodrome in Great Yarmouth ,it's a truly remarkable show, performed in the last all circus building left in the UK.

The images below are from Keepers published in 2013.

Mark Cator, Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms, 2012

Mark Cator, Chancellor of Cambridge University, 2012

Mark Cator, Boy Bishop

Mark Cator, Sisters of Trinity Hospital, 2012