Behold

America’s Last Traveling Sideshow

Ward Hall, Florida, 2007
Jimmy and Dena Katz

In a business in which novelty and rarity are currency, World of Wonders is its own spectacle: It is the very last touring American sideshow. When husband and wife photography duo Jimmy and Dena Katz heard about this unique group online, they were instantly intrigued. “We’re always looking for American subcultures that have a very strong visual element to them that are also very honest,” Jimmy Katz said. “This is not like people dressing up for Halloween. That’s what the appeal of this was to us. These are people living a real lifestyle that is outside the realm of society.”

After some initial hesitation, the folks behind World of Wonders agreed to be photographed. Subsequently, the Katzes spent three years on and off photographing the roaming troupe, traveling to spend time with them along their tour in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Florida. They captured their subjects with a large-format 4-by-5 camera, resulting in images rich with detail and striking tones that are collected in the book World of Wonders. “We wanted to make sure this was not really a documentary project in a traditional sense,” Jimmy Katz said. “We really wanted to do environmental portraits with them, using them more in a casual way the way someone would normally shoot with a Leica. We tried to get certain mix of spontaneity and formality in the images.”

After some initial hesitation, the folks behind World of Wonders agreed to be photographed. Subsequently, the Katzes spent three years on and off photographing the roaming troupe, traveling to spend time with them along their tour in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Florida. They captured their subjects with a large-format 4-by-5 camera, resulting in images rich with detail and striking tones that are collected in the book World of Wonders. “We wanted to make sure this was not really a documentary project in a traditional sense,” Jimmy Katz said. “We really wanted to do environmental portraits with them, using them more in a casual way the way someone would normally shoot with a Leica. We tried to get certain mix of spontaneity and formality in the images.”

John Johnson breathing fire, Florida, 2007
Jimmy and Dena Katz
Chris with knives, Florida, 2007
Jimmy and Dena Katz
Natalie and Beulah, New Jersey, 2008
Jimmy and Dena Katz
Natalie and Beulah, New Jersey, 2008
Jimmy and Dena Katz

Though World of Wonders survives, Katz said the touring life is not easy. Performers do 12 shows a day, seven days a week, and often work as many as 14 hours per day. Still, Katz said, the performers are determined to stick to a lifestyle they love—one that affords freedom and fun, as well as the unique pleasure of performing for live audiences. “This is a very hard life that they’ve chosen, but I think that to be in front of people and have an audience applaud for them really is what feeds them and makes them feel that it’s all worthwhile at the end of the day,” Katz said.

Though World of Wonders survives, Katz said the touring life is not easy. Performers do 12 shows a day, seven days a week, and often work as many as 14 hours per day. Still, Katz said, the performers are determined to stick to a lifestyle they love—one that affords freedom and fun, as well as the unique pleasure of performing for live audiences. “This is a very hard life that they’ve chosen, but I think that to be in front of people and have an audience applaud for them really is what feeds them and makes them feel that it’s all worthwhile at the end of the day,” Katz said.

Chris with cash, New Jersey, 2008
Jimmy and Dena Katz
Jimmy Long taking tickets, Florida, 2007
Jimmy and Dena Katz
Tommy Breen swallowing a sword, New Jersey, 2008
Jimmy and Dena Katz
Chris, Pete, Ward, and Beulah, New Jersey, 2008

Jimmy and Dena Katz

World of Wonders banners, Florida, 2007
Jimmy and Dena Katz
World of Wonders banners, Florida, 2007
Jimmy and Dena Katz