Circus Magazine: Beauty & Chaos by Jackson Bowley

  • All images courtesy of  Circus Magazine
  • Interview and foreword  Henry Gorse
I think we have entered a very interesting time in the creative industries. The role of creatives are interchanging, merging, and evolving. Editorial feels less relevant somehow, and commissioning rules are being torn apart, allowing an eclectic mix of styles to break through. I love seeing an emphasis being placed on fun, something to make you smile, and goddamn, do we need it right now.

I first met Jackson in 2015 on a shoot I was doing for PYLOT at the beloved (and greatly missed) Curtain Road Studios. I tasked him with acquiring a motorbike and new born baby and, to my amazement, both arrived on set within twenty minutes. It was then that I knew this guy was made of the right stuff. And so, it came as no surprise to me when I discovered he was starting up his own magazine. And here we introduce Circus Magazine.

Circus Magazine issue 01 cover. Art Direction and Hair Sculpture by Yusuke Morioka, Photography by Kenta Sawada

Many publications have promised a fresh outlook on beauty, but I just see more of the same. Agency names, binary stories, red tape and rules. Quite a daunting and disappointing situation for any promising talents to navigate in this exclusive industry. But, as mentioned above, things are changing and magazines like Circus are here to challenge what we believe constitutes a beauty magazine.

With a clever, and care-free approach, Circus commissioned each artist to deliver a single image or artwork around the issue’s theme, while subconsciously reacting to the beauty industry. All coming together in the form of an in-your-face A1 spectacle of fold out posters, unbound so that you can choose to flick through its sizeable pages, and take out your favourite artworks to display across your walls.

Alongside the privilege of shooting for his first issue, I had the chance to ask him some questions for PYLOT:

Photography & Makeup by Erin Green

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Photography by Jackson Bowley, Makeup by Lynski, Model: Mariam Aluede
HG: Jackson, tell me, how did the idea first come to you to make this thing? Why did you join the circus? 

JB: Circus came from a very stagnant period of work. I’d be having a lot of meetings with agencies and clients and most of them were saying the same thing, “we’d love to see more beauty editorials in your portfolio”. The problem was no one wanted me to shoot for them. So, I thought I’d make my own platform where I’m able to make the decisions on what makes for a suitable beauty image. I think it’s a common story of how magazines are started: somethings missing so let’s fill the gap. And, Jesus, with the size of the mag I’ll hopefully fill a few! 

I wrote down some initial thoughts when I first came up with the idea of doing a beauty publication, and these were: 

“RULES… 

  • BEAUTY 
  • STYLING IS WHATEVER I DON’T CARE
  • COLOURFUL AND UNCOOL
  • BIG PAGES / FUN 
  • MORE OF A COLLAGE OR SCRAP BOOK THAN COHERENT MAG
  • TRY & AVOID STUDIOS – OUT AND ABOUT IS BEST
  • POSTER SIZED
  • AVOID TYPICAL MAGAZINE TROPES
  • CASTING IS IMPORTANT – EMPHASIS ON SHOOTING FRIENDS/FAMILY/CREATIVES”

These were the words of a frantic madman, but the initial sentiment remained. Circus isn’t about names, what and who is cool, but more about having fun and creating bizarre, absurd, but still beautiful imagery. It’s – well, I hope it is – accessible.

Makeup by Mary-Jane Gottidoc, Photography by Nathan Klein
HG: What’s interesting to me is that you actually label yourself as a beauty photographer, which is quite uncommon nowadays. When did you first realise this? 

JB: I mean, I like to say I’m a ‘beauty’ photographer. It’s a little bit sarcastic because my work definitely scares all the beauty clients off. So, it’s an inside joke with myself. 

I realised this with my first paid job. I got asked to shoot a beauty story for a big brand, and I remember thinking: what is a beauty story? Turns out it was the majority of my portfolio, but little naive Jackson didn’t realise. I just thought I was a fashion photographer without the clothes. From then on, I focused more on the beauty aspect of my images, working with interesting makeup artists and here I am, covering people in glitter and face paints. It’s great fun!

Photography by Eamonn Freel, Makeup by Lynski

Photography by Max Barnett, Makeup by Grace Marie Ellington, Model & Hair: Fey Carla Adediji
HG: I would love for you to be pick out three images and elaborate on the concepts and why they deliver the Circus ethos. 

JB: First things first, I love each contribution equally like my child and want to thank everyone who made the first issue of Circus so special! 

The subtle bizarreness of a lot of the images is what I probably love most: this definitely helps deliver the ethos of Circus. For instance Anh Hoang’s image of the feet with outrageous nails holding the phone is something that definitely requires a double take. If it were hands it wouldn’t be as striking. 

Your shoot for the magazine was pretty nuts too [Henry]. Three makeup artists and two hairstylists, what a ridiculous idea! But that’s what I loved about it, it was so unnecessary. 

Lastly, we must talk about the king of still life, Bobby Doherty. He was probably one the first people on my list of dream contributors, I absolutely love his work and have done for years. So, when he told me he’d not had time to shoot something for Circus when the deadline hit, I was gutted, but you [Henry] were with me and told me to just tell him to shoot an iPhone picture. The next thing you know, and in true Bobby style, I received a freaky hotel bedroom still-life shot in Mexico. Brilliant!

But that’s the point of the magazine to me, you don’t necessarily need to meticulously plan a shoot for weeks. Just go with it and make something fun! Bobby also let me include our email chain in the final image which I just think is so funny and relatable. We’ve all sent one of those emails at some point in our careers, but I wasn’t having any of it haha!

Creative Direction & Nail Art by Anh Hoang, Photography by Armand Da Silva

Photography by Henry Gorse, Makeup by Grace Marie Ellington, Marie Bruce, and Nicola Brittin, Hair by Benjamin David, and Louis Souvestre, Model: Miriam O'Neill

Photography by Bobby Doherty
HG: Can you pick out one of your greatest beauty experiences? A memory which will last forever.

JB: I can tell you my worst… I threw up on myself on one of my first jobs back after the first lockdown and had to leave early because I could barely focus my lens. I still managed to get everything shot and the shoot was actually super beautiful, but it was an absolutely horrific experience. And no, before you ask, I wasn’t hungover, I had a stomach bug. 

But in all seriousness, it hasn’t happened yet, and that’s because nobody from Glow Up has asked me to be a guest judge… 

HG: Andrea Giacobbe makes an appearance in the first issue of Circus! Just as his style has started to feel as relevant as it once was. His image is striking yet sinister and maybe not something you would associate with ‘beauty’. How do you navigate this? 

JB: I know what a legend! 

What does beauty even mean? The more I think about it the more my head hurts. It’s such a subjective and abstract term. But in terms of beauty photography, we’ve definitely been fed this unrealistic, whitewashed beauty ideal for the past twenty or thirty years and I guess that’s what everyone associates beauty with. Take a stroll through an airport duty free and tell me I’m wrong. Circus is literally a client’s worst nightmare; I don’t even try and navigate it. Why would I want to make a publication that recycles the same beauty imagery we’ve already seen one-hundred times over? The point of Circus is to completely flip what we all think beauty is entirely on its head and then cover it in grease paint and gems.

Photography by Andrea Giacobbe

Photography by James Hobson, Model: Eamonn Freel
HG: It’s exciting to see beauty used in such a fun conceptual way. What would be your dream collaboration? 

JB: My dream collaboration is, and will always be, a Snazaroo campaign. But I think I’m more likely to shoot MAC’s next Christmas campaign than bag a shoot with Snazaroo. Their team is like a protected fort. Snazaroo, if you’re reading this, hey! What’s your address? I’d love to send you a copy xoxo.

HG: What would you want to see from beauty brands in the future? What progression would you like to encourage?

JB: The beauty industry is catching up in terms of casting and authenticity, which is fantastic. What we need now is a huge injection of creativity. We do not need another beauty campaign showing how to apply mascara and a red lip, everyone gets it. We’re bored! 

Beauty Brands, PLEASE think outside the box, create imagery that is exciting and engaging. Also, lets get out of the studio… 

HG: Can we expect an issue 2? And your own multimillion pound beauty product line to follow?

JB: I would love to! Let’s see who’s keen to join the circus for a second round. Fire breathers are encouraged.


A makeup line, probably not, but I’d happily do a Circus collab with someone. Who wants to see a Gucci x Circus eyeshadow palette? 

Pre-Order a copy of Circus Magazine here, and follow them on Instagram here.