From the Road: Circus of the World – Santiago, Chile
During college, Jeff and I decided we wanted to travel and push ourselves and try working on documentary journalism abroad. Our college, Brooks Institute of Photography, had an annual documentary trip and that year it was going to Chile. Growing up with a hispanic family, I had been to Mexico too many times to count, but had never really traveled outside of the US on my own. This would be my first big international trip and while I was there I would be responsible for visually capturing a story, my first real assignment as a young photographer. For the first time I would be responsible for not just for myself, but for the group I was apart of. I was thrilled and excited that my best friend, Jeff, would be joining me. Early on Jeff and I knew we wanted to work together. With one documentary under our belts as a team, we were eager to start the next and we were two of 16 students who made up the 2010 Brooks Institute International Documentary Trip to Chile.
Chile was a whole new place filled with color, expression, and for me, some of my most intense life memories were formed there. I instantly fell in love with this country. Everything here was so colorful and rich with passion. We spent several days in Valpariso before Jeff and I headed up to Santiago to start shooting our story.
Before we left California, we had decided that we wanted to do a story on a Circus school in Santiago. Personal expression and street art is very common in Chile and stood out to us. We found a circus school (college) called Circo Del Mundo (Circus of the World) but had had little contact with them prior to arriving. Jeff had emailed them and tried to explain that we were American students who wanted to come and photograph their school. Through broken English and Spanish translations, we were unsure if they understood that we would be coming soon and before we knew it we were there.
With our camera batteries fully charged, our memory cards empty and ready to be filled up, we set out of our studio apartment in Santiago and waved down the first cab we saw. We handed the cab driver a piece of paper with the address we stole from the Circo Del Mundo website scribbled on it and my first real international adventure begun.
I was enjoying the long ride through the city. We were staying in the Bella Artes district which is clean and modern. Chile’s climate is very similar to California, and Santiago reminded me of Los Angeles, but with more culture and hospitality. My eyes were glued out the window as we ventured out of our metropolitan bubble and headed for the poor side of the tracks. When we gave the cab driver the address he looked unsure and tried to ask if we were sure this was where we wanted to go. We insisted that the address was correct and pushed him to take us. Soon we were on the outer limits of the city and the cab driver stopped next to what looked like an overgrown empty field. He gave us the paper with the address on it back to us and pointed to a gate. We paid our fare and got out feeling lost and unsure about our next move.
Through the old gate there was a dirt path. Everything in my bones was telling me that we were going to get robbed. Every travel book tells you to be weary of unseen paths and that if something feels wrong it typically is, but Jeff and I decided to keep going. We had come over 5,000 miles to get here and couldn’t give up without a fight.
Timidly walking down this overgrown dirt path, Jeff and I were joking and trying to lighten the mood and talk about anything other than the possibility of someone jumping out of the bushes and stealing all our camera gear or walking into some kind of drug cartel and getting locked up abroad. The path was long and seemed to be through an abandoned theme park. Thank goodness it was day time and not night or the faded faces of clowns heads on the ground would have set me over the edge. There were old amusement park rides and rusted metal throughout the field.
After walking for what seemed like an eternity we came up over the hill and spotted a flag. As we kept walking the top of a circus tent started to reveal itself on the other side of the hill and before too long we stood tall while feasting our eyes on a giant blue circus tent with another small tent behind it. We had finally found Circo Del Mundo and made it in once piece.
Now that we had found the school we still had to awkwardly walk in and see if we could shoot there. The school looked deserted but as we got closer we saw students walking in and out of the circus tent and two guys on an outdoor trapeze. We had made it. After finding the main office, a trailer, and trying to talk to a women who we assumed was in charge, it seemed like they were happy to have us there. They introduced us to Manuel, a former student, who now runs an after school program to teach little kids circus routines to keep them off the streets.
(Jeff teaching a little girl how to use a shotgun mic.)
Manuel was a great guy. He was young and loved kids and the circus. We spent several days getting to know him and shooting around the school before he offered to take us to San Bernardo, a small town just outside Santiago, to meet the kids and shoot one of his classes. The journey to the school was full of circus tricks and laughter. Although we didn’t speak much Spanish and Manuel didn’t speak English, I remember having full conversations will him through body language and we never had issues communicating. When we were on the metro, Manuel walked on his hands onto the train and kept doing headstands inside the moving metro car keeping the mood fun and light. After the metro, we had to take a city bus and walk to the school. Once in the neighborhood, Manual became much more serious and demanded that we were never to come here without him. He was worried we would be robbed and didn’t want Jeff or I out of his sight.
The second we stepped into the elementary school we were surrounded by the cutest little kids holding our hands and waving hello. They were so happy that we had come all the way from America to see them. It was the greatest feeling in the world. It took some time to actually be able to shoot because they all just wanted to talk to us and we need them to forget we were there. Jeff and I went back to the school several times and watched and took photos of the kids learning how to juggle, jump, and even swing on the trapeze.
(Marina showing the kids her photos.)
Our last night shooting would be the kids big performance. All school year, Manuel would teach the kids after school and at the end of the school year they had a performance at Circo Del Mundo in front of all their friends and family. The kids spent hours playing dress up and painting their faces for the event and couldn’t have been happier. Their performance was amazing and went off without a hitch. Jeff and I couldn’t believe how much they could do and how great they performed.
Chile is a county that will always hold a piece of my heart. It felt like home away from home. During my time in Chile, I did a lot of growing up personally. I’ll never forget our time at Circo Del Mundo and with the kids. It felt like Jeff and I had ran away and joined the circus and didn’t want to go home to our lives and responsibilities. If not for our urge to travel we would never have met Manual or the kids at the circus. Walking down that scary abandoned dirty road was difficult to do, but as in life, anything worth doing typically is.
For more on the 2010 Brooks Institute International Documentary Project visit the “Revelar los Enlaces” webpage. The collective project, “Revelar los Enlaces”, is copyright of Brooks Institute, 2010 and all the contributing photographers.
WATCH THE VIDEO! Here is the “Circo Del Mundo” video segment from “Revelar los Enlaces” feature length documentary – take a look!
As a maturing women, Marina has dedicated her life to travel and new experiences. After working a 9-5 cubical lifestyle, Marina sold everything she owned, left her job and begun a new life with her boyfriend and travel companion, Jeff Johns. Together they relocated to Phuket, Thailand and founded Latitude 34 in which they seek to share their alternative lifestyle with the world.
Marina is a Visual Journalism graduate of Brooks Institute of Photography where she studied photography, videography and ultimately caught the travel bug. Through creating several international documentaries, Marina realized there was more to the world than work and wanted something more.