The Laurel of Asheville Magazine
More In Artsmore in the March 2011 Issue

F32 Photography: Living Art

By Joe Longobardi - Post Date: 03.01.2011

Perhaps only in Asheville can you see nuns riding on eight-feet-tall bicycles, drummers in silver paint, and the annual rite of zombies taking to the streets and bringing traffic to a standstill. Throughout the year, our city offers a visual smorgasbord.

Another time-honored tradition in Asheville is the city’s ubiquitous array of street performers. Also known as “busking” (from the Spanish word buscar meaning “to seek”), street performing is the art of providing spontaneous entertainment for money, and perhaps a shot at achieving the ever elusive fame and fortune.

Street performance has roots that trace back to the Middle Ages and before when it was a chief form of entertainment. While it is still quite common in major metropolitan cities around the world, it is somewhat of an anomaly for a relatively small city like Asheville to offer such a large and eclectic array of musicians, magicians, jugglers, and mimes.

One can encounter “living statues” that for me seem to resonate with the hustle and bustle of the growing town. No mere mimes, these are individuals who dress lavishly to draw crowds of the curious who want to investigate what at first appears to be statues seemingly abandoned on a busy sidewalk. Toss a dollar or two in their nearby baskets, however, and they’ll come to life with a song, dance, or even magic tricks.

As a photographer, such spectacles are wonderful opportunities to bridge the worlds of journalism and fine art by capturing images of the interplay between the performers and their audiences. I find often find them to be an intriguing dichotomy of the sane and absurd played out over and over again. I sometimes see these as surreal events unfolding as parables for the human condition.

I try to get in as close as possible to capture this interplay, but do so by using a telephoto or zoom lens so as not to interfere with the performance. These lenses can also help isolate the performer from distracting elements. And remember, these are real people, not giant toys left out for our amusement. If you watch long enough, you’ll probably notice that these unsupervised public performances can leave the individuals vulnerable to verbal abuse and even the occasional poking to see if they are actually real.

These amazing performers provide living art that helps set the character of downtown Asheville. Enjoy the photographic opportunities they present and remember to leave some money for them!

Joe Longobardi ( is an Asheville documentary and commercial photographer. He studied fine art and photography at The Art Institute of Boston. His work has appeared in various books and publications and has been exhibited in a number of area galleries including the Black Mountain Center for the Arts, The Biltmore Estate, and Pack Place. He can be reached at

The f/32 Photography Group meets the second Wednesday of each month at the Reuters Center on the UNCA campus at 6:30 p.m. The diverse individuals of Western North Carolina who are members of the group known as f/32 are young and old, professionals and amateurs. The common bond is a mutual love of photography and what it can show us about our world. Find out more at

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