Cliff Brane Photography: Blog en-us (C) Cliff Brane Photography (Cliff Brane Photography) Sun, 20 Nov 2022 14:09:00 GMT Sun, 20 Nov 2022 14:09:00 GMT Cliff Brane Photography: Blog 120 80 LAST OF THE BIG ARENA SHOWS Last of the Great Arena ShowsLast of the Great Arena ShowsFeld Entertainment brought the circus to to big indoor arenas around the country with several traveling versions rotating through major cities.   Many of us can remember the circus from our childhood. My first memories were created at The Forum in Wichita, Kansas when Ringling Bros. would come to town. It wasn't the big tents or the "Big Top" as it was often called, I'd seen in movies. It was an indoor event that eventually grew to large arena size after the circus was acquired by Feld Entertainment in the 1960's.
   For several years prior to 2017 when Feld closed the 146 year old circus, I used some business contacts to gain access to pre-shows and the show itself. It was an up close experience that ended when Feld became more cautious after a tragic accident that injured a number of performers at a show in the Northeast. The images in this blog are from a number of different themed performances over several years.

The Ringmaster - Master of Ceremonies and the glue that held the performance together.The Ringmaster #1The Ringmaster
The Ringmaster - Master of Ceremonies and the glue that held the performance together.

Ringmaster #4Ringmaster #4 There were many glorious ways to introduce the crowd to the Ringmaster.

Ringmaster #5Ringmaster #5The Ringmaster makes a grand entrance Ringling Brothers Pre-ShowRingling Brothers Pre-ShowCircus, known for and built upon its' animal acts, was ultimately changed by the protests to the use of the animals The circus weathered criticism and protesting over the treatment of circus animals including and maybe even primarily among them the elephants.

RBBB Pre-showRBBB Pre-show RBBB Pre-showRBBB Pre-show THE ANIMAL ACTS

RBBB Pre-showRBBB Pre-show

Ringling Brothers Barnam & BaileyRingling Brothers Barnam & Bailey

RBBB Pre-showRBBB Pre-show

Clown #11Clown #11

THE CLOWNS: If the Ringmaster was the guide to the circus universe, the clowns were another constant, always ubiquitous and crowd pleasing.

Clown #5Clown #5

Clown #9Clown #9The veteran clown.


Clown #8Clown #8The veteran clown in this Feld Production of RBBB.

The other clowns encouraged me to meet this gentleman. They said he had been with RBBB the longest of any of them.

Clown #2Clown #2Clowns safely engage the audience and warm up the audience for the show.

Clowns often facilitated other acts. In this case Jemma "The Jet" (Kirby).

Gemma the Jet #1Gemma the Jet #1In what might be called the daredevil category, Gemma the Jet, the human canonball. Pre-show she jumped from a high platform into a cushion and during the show, she was shot from the canon.

Gemma the Jet #2Gemma the Jet #2The drop into the air cushion. Gemma the Jet #3Gemma the Jet #3Gemma shot from the canon during the show. Clowns #1Clowns #1From pre-show to closing of the performance, the clowns served as the glue that hold the show together. Clown #6Clown #6 Clown #4Clown #4 Clown #3Clown #3Juggling is one of the often found skills of the circus clowns. RBBB Pre-showRBBB Pre-show RBBB Pre-showRBBB Pre-showFeld offered an upclose experience with performers and a special admission add on.

I remember reading how the Felds, who own Ringling Brothers, would travel the world to view potential acts for their productions.

RBBB Pre-showRBBB Pre-showThe up close experience at an arena show. RBBB Pre-showRBBB Pre-showOne of the acts from around the world. RBBB Pre-showRBBB Pre-showMultiple acts in the pre-show. RBBB Pre-showRBBB Pre-showInternational performers.

It was the circus as I remembered it, but with added elements of vaudeville, Las Vegas shows and its' own particular mixture of color that dazzled the eyes.

RBBB Pre-showRBBB Pre-showThe lighting, the colors, the sheer pageantry and amount of the activity of the big arena shows made the productions impressive. RBBB Pre-showRBBB Pre-showFeld traveled to different countries to find the acts for the big arena circus shows.

(Cliff Brane Photography) circus RBBB Ringling Brothers Sun, 20 Nov 2022 14:09:23 GMT
ASHLEY CLUB LAMBS - A VIRGINIA BASED BUSINESS    Travel the USA countryside and you are bound to see all kinds of livestock. Sheep will be one of the common sights. Many of us will assume their use will be for their wool or part of our diet, but sheep are also part of a show culture supported by 4-H and FFA. The animals used in these shows are bred on club lamb farms, farms that are the source of the thousands of animals shown by the young people who compete in these shows.
   Ashley Club Lambs, one such farm in Augusta County, Virginia, is an example of how these businesses begin and grow.

      First, some background on the farm itself. Ashley’s Dad, Sonny Balsley, received the farm as a graduation present from his own father, Ashley’s grandfather. He had pressured Sonny to get a college degree and the farm was the graduation gift. At first the farm was dedicated to cattle and boarding horses. The horses were the particular interest of Sonny’s wife Delores. The lambs came gradually with some sheep the family had used for a live church nativity scene. As Ashley’s interest grew, showing lambs began with local shows when she was nine years old and progressed to the state level. For seven years in a row at the Virginia State Fair, Ashley’s lambs were either the Grand Champion or the Reserve Champion. That was 1999 to 2006.

Fast forward to 2022 and a lot has changed. Ashley’s interest has gone from showing animals to raising them for sale to other farms and individuals. The farm now produces over 70 lambs per year. Production is through two birthing cycles, one in the fall and another in late winter.

Ashley with some of the late winter lambs.

 Most of the flock are Hampshire crosses as Hampshire blood often produces more muscle and hair on the legs, so they tend to be what show judges are looking for. The farm has gone from local on-site sales to much more frequent contact with buyers over the internet. The website,, has brought her buyers from as far away as Maine, Indiana and Oklahoma.
   Aside from a couple of males kept on the farm, all the breeding is done through artificial insemination using sperm from other breeders. The sperm is shipped in set amounts called “jumps”. A jump will inseminate thirty ewes, but mostly Ashley purchases a half jump, enough for fifteen ewes. Current prices for half a jump run around $4,500 so care is taken before purchasing to research the backgrounds of the bucks, so Ashley has some idea of their potential genetic strengths and weaknesses. Most mature males that are kept on property have been neutered so they are incapable of breeding, but they are allowed to pasture with and interact with the ewes. This increases the chances of the artificial insemination being successful. Even with that, the success rate for the AI is only around 60% to 70%.
   In any given year about seventy percent of that year’s production will be sold. The rest are retained to maintain the flock, but in order to vary the gene pool at the farm, Ashley will look to add animals from other farms to hers. Some recent purchases are from a breeder in Iowa.

Ashley with the pregnant ewes in the birthing area.

   Successful sales efforts for the new lambs begins with advertising on the internet when they are around six weeks old. The optimum time for them to be sold is at two to three months of age.
   Ashley Club Lambs has grown from a nine-year old’s interest in showing lambs that receive the highest awards in the state of Virginia through several decades of growing a business. Her goal is to make Ashley Club Lambs one of the top breeding operations in the country.

Ashley's father, Sonny Balsley, with her son in the barn area.

Maybe one day, Ashley speculates, her son will develop his own interest and become the next generation at the family farm.



(Cliff Brane Photography) 4-H animal husbandry Augusta County club lamb club lambs FFA lambs sheep show lambs state fair Virginia Mon, 14 Nov 2022 15:59:30 GMT
THE MINOR LEAGUES - BASEBALLS REAL FIELDS OF DREAMS In April of 2015 with the approval of the Birmingham Barons of the Southern League, I began a photo project by following the team through the season from beginning to end.

Young Fans Find a HeroYoung Fans Find a Hero The Barons trace their heritage to Rickwood Field, one of the oldest ballparks in America, where the above photo was taken. At one time they were two teams, one all white and one all black. A special section of the stands was reserved for white fans during games the Black Barons played, and that same section was reserved for black fans, when the white team played. While those days are long gone, the team still returns to Rickwood Field one day each year to play a throw back game.

The umpire describes the ground rulesThe umpire describes the ground rulesPointing out the foul lines. Barons and Jacksonville Suns. Here in Alabama everything seems to take a backseat to college football, but each spring and summer in Birmingham and across the Southern League managers meet with the home plate umpire for the first time and the season begins.

Delivering the first game ballsDelivering the first game ballsThe Barons batboy brings the home plate umpire his stock of game balls. Baseball is a ritual filled game. Travel from stadium to stadium, attend game after game and you will see some of the same series of activities before the start of the game. Above, the batboy delivers the first game balls to the home plate umpire.

The Anthem - pre-game tradition.The Anthem - pre-game tradition.A middle school student is the guest singer for the National Anthem. The Barons publicize tryouts before the season for the honor of singing the National Anthem. In 2015 it resulted in a wide range of singers from this middle school student, to beauty queens and even the chorus from Opera Birmingham.

Lemon in the Outfield vs PensacolaLemon in the Outfield vs PensacolaSunset at Regions Field in July of 2015 The Barons' home is Regions Field in downtown Birmingham. Year after year this ballpark attracts record crowds and witnesses beautiful sunsets. It was built by the city and carried a price tag of 65 million dollars. It is considered one of the best designed minor league stadiums in the country.

Couple watching from left field.Couple watching from left field.Date night at the ballpark. On any given game day, you find dating couples...

A youngsters reward.A youngsters reward.Food at the ballpark, almost as important as the game itself. ... and young families attracted to the game and the side benefits at the stadium.

Under the Lights - Montgomery, AlabamaUnder the Lights - Montgomery, AlabamaMontgomery's Riverwalk Stadium Riverwalk Stadium in Montgomery, Alabama: The team travels by bus from series to series and city to city. Thanks to former basketball star, Michael Jordan, who tried his hand at baseball after retirement and played one season with the Barons, they enjoy a better than average bus. Michael bought a new luxurious coach for the team during his year as a Baron. I never got to ride on the team bus, but did follow the team in 2015 to Chattanooga, Montgomery, Huntsville and Jackson, TN.

The visitors threaten.The visitors threaten.Man on first, batter at the plate and one in the on deck circle - Regions Field, Birmingham, Alabama One of my photographic goals was to capture the larger feel for the game, how the pieces of the baseball puzzle fall into place. In the photo above the visitors threaten with a man on first, a batter at the plate and one on deck.

Baseball's defining moment.Baseball's defining moment.Regions Field, Birmingham, Alabama Although this was an unpaid project, it was well worth it in the many compliments I received on the work and all the drama I got to witness. The above photo, which I call "Baseball's Decisive Moment" was selected by the league office in Atlanta as the cover photo for their 2016 Media Guide & Record Book.

The catcher after the gameThe catcher after the gameThe catcher after the first game of a double header. Regions Field, Birmingham, Alabama. The Catcher After the Game: Through the season what had been a new crop of major league prospects in April saw their chances of making the major league club increase or diminish by the end of summer. In the case of this player he was later traded to another major league teams' farm system.

The Lineup is AnnouncedThe Lineup is AnnouncedAnnouncing the Line-up. RIckwood Field. For others who played on the Minor Leagues Field of Dreams, it was a more direct route. Tim Anderson, second from the left in this picture taken at Rickwood Field, made it to the Barons' parent team, The Chicago White Sox. At the beginning of the 2017 season with Chicago, Anderson signed a five year two and a half million dollar contract. But for luck or talent, all our dreams should come so true. 

Peace, Cliff Brane




(Cliff Brane Photography) AA Alabama Barons Birmingham Birmingham Barons Cliff Brane Regions Field Southern League baseball professional sports Thu, 04 May 2017 16:20:28 GMT