Bill Payne’s photo exhibit goes beyond the big top

Photographer Bill Payne’s travels with various circuses are documented in Byways: Any Road or Path Other Than the Main One, currently on display at the Sahara West Library.
Photo: Christopher DeVargas

After coming across a collection of antique mannequins in a dark old room in a downtown store in Detroit, photographer Bill Payne returned the next day with his tripod and camera to capture the eerily compelling wax creatures, spending hours with the 100 or so antiques. The result is a collection of images of chipped faces and armless bodies whose peculiar realism begs for lingering double takes.

Byways: Any Road or Path Other Than the Main One at Sahara West Library highlights a collection of work created by Payne—most of it as he traveled with the circus—offering a skewed (or unique) sense of things. The photos bounce in time and place between France and England during the early 1980s to more recent excursions the musician and his wife have taken. They include landscapes, cityscapes, circus tents on the backdrop of a misty evening, performances and lounging clowns during their downtime.

Payne, a Las Vegas resident and saxophone player who traveled with the Ringling Bros. Circus, and later as a roustabout on the road with UniverSoul Circus, was shooting daily. While the circus tents are fascinating—old-world relics in contemporary America—it’s the mannequins, photographed in 1998 in downtown Detroit, that steal the show.

Byways: Any Road or Path Other Than the Main One Through July 8, Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Friday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sahara West Library, 9600 W. Sahara Ave, 507-3630.

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