Street Performance Classic Returns From Distant Past

street performer martin ewen
Street Performer Martin Ewen as “Lurk” on Købmagergade in Copenhagen sometime around 1992.

The first picture I ever had published was of a wonderfully crazy street performer working in Copenhagen the summer of… oh, many years ago. Technically it was a bit of a dodgy affair: significant lens flare, slightly out of focus, awkward composition, taken on too-fast-for-sunshine black-and-white film (Ilford’s otherwise wonderful XP2, a “fake” 400 ISO black-and-white negative using dyes instead of silver, which could be developed in a C41 machine as if it were a regular color film). For all of that, the picture perfectly captured the crazy antics and the surreal situation with the stilt walking clown stalking the oblivious nun.

I loved that shot, and so did the magazine editor who ran with it as a “slice of life” filler.

I was doing a project on street performers at the time, so spent a few days with the street performer in question — Martin Ewen. I loved his work and his surly “stage” demeanor, and in return for putting up with me and my camera I gave him some prints of the pictures I’d taken of him in action. Then he left Copenhagen for Barcelona or Auckland or somewhere else, and that was the last I ever saw of him.

Fast forward a few decades, and I’m cleaning up my portfolio while taking a trip down memory lane, nostalgia dripping richly from my laptop’s screen. There’s the crazy clown on stilts again, but in an improved negative scan I had done by a few years ago. Trying to beef up the caption, I look him up online. Behold, there’s And there’s my picture. On his site… on his brochure… and on his book on street performers, “Panto Damascus,” no less. I guess he really liked the picture, too.

The always cash-strapped photographer in me couldn’t help but think for a brief moment, “Argh, lost royalties!” but honestly that was patently ludicrous and the thought ended swiftly.

First of all, I gave Martin the prints with no strings attached — didn’t know better back then, and besides, most street performers are right down at the bottom of the food chain with us photojournalists when it comes to a chronic lack of disposable income, so it’s not like he would have been in a position to pay me anyway.

I’m really just thrilled and pleasantly surprised to see that old picture get some decent mileage so many years later. And equally delighted to see that Martin and his timeless street performance character, “Lurk,” is apparently still going strong so many years later.