Who was Edward J. Kelty?
That’s the question that’s explored in the documentary, A Flash of Light. A hard-drinking Manhattan-based photographer, Kelty would spend his summers following the circus as it traveled across the country. Along the way. Kelty would take picture of the performers. Some of them were candid shots while some of them were posed but they all captured the humanity of a group of people who were usually not treated with much respect by the rest of society. From the 1920s through the 40s, Kelty captured indelible images of circus life but then, suddenly, he apparently abandoned both photography and the circus and he moved to Chicago. It was only after his death that collectors started to realize just how special Kelty’s photographs were. In the documentary, one collectors says that he hung one of Kelty’s pictures between pictures taken by Diane Arbus and Irving Penn and that Kelty’s picture was the one that visitors always commented upon!
Featuring hundreds of Kelty’s photographs, along with interviews with collectors and his surviving family members, this documentary gives Kelty his due. While Kelty’s personal life may remain mysterious, his art can speak for itself and A Flash of Light shows not only why Kelty’s photographs are so popular among collectors but also why they are such important documents of their time and place.
I recommend A Flash of Light to anyone who is interested in either the circus or photography.