Jackson Bowley’s website bio describes himself as a London based ‘beauty’ photographer. The use of inverted commas is an inside joke with himself, alluding to the fact that, despite having shot for the likes of Asos and 3ina, he’s always struggled to find a version of beauty that fits with his own vision.
The idea to create his own magazine was born out of post-lockdown boredom, but informed by the imagemaker’s longstanding frustration with the monotonous editorial and beauty worlds. “I felt like there was space for a fun, non-serious magazine platform centred loosely around beauty,” he tells CR.
Launched last year, he describes Circus as a bold, bright, chaotic, stressful, sickly, loud, scrappy and stupid beauty publication that creates and celebrates the absurd. An ‘anti-beauty’ magazine, if you will.
The publication couldn’t look more different to the traditional magazine format in every respect, comprising roughly 20 individual A1-sized posters. Meanwhile, Bowley’s brief to contributors is to create something that would literally be a client’s worst nightmare.
As Circus’ editor-in-chief and art director, Bowley likes to keep the process of bringing each issue to life as loose as possible. “There are certain shoots where I get really involved with the art direction and planning. I’ll have a strong idea in mind with the team and it’s a bit more meticulous. But for the majority of the shoots, I try to give creative freedom to the people I’ve asked to contribute,” he says.
When it came to making Circus’ latest edition, The Impossible Issue, his inspiration came from the idea of taking things that seem implausible and making them a reality. The result of ten months’ worth of work, the gloriously garish issue features contributions from the likes of Alfie Kungu and Maisie Cousins.
“The main highlight for me was definitely flying up to Scotland to shoot the cover,” says Bowley. “Me and makeup artist Lynski set off at like 5.30am to get to the swimming pool in Glasgow on time. Watching Kathleen Dawson swim was also incredible, especially with a classic Lysnki airbrush.”
Looking ahead, Bowley wants to ensure that Circus continues to feels fresh and interesting through the talent and creatives involved in its making. “I’m also a big believer of ‘if it ain’t broke’. I think the simplicity of the publication is something that works so well, so I don’t have any huge plans to change that aspect,” he says.
As for whether he hopes it might inspire the traditional beauty world to be a little weirder? “I wouldn’t even say I hope beauty brands become weirder, but that they become more flexible and diverse within their creative outputs,” he says. “There’s so much room for creative freedom within beauty and I can’t wait for it to be fully utilised.”
The Impossible Issue of Circus is out now; circuscircuscircuscircus.com