CNN Photos

Little people, big top

Drawing inspiration from “the good old movies,” photographer Tatiana Ilina created portraits of artists traveling through Russia.

But these aren’t just any artists. Their traveling name is “The Light of the Little Stars,” a circus troupe of “little people” – people affected by dwarfism. Their small stature does not affect their big star status, said Ilina.

“It was not easy to shoot them,” the Russian photographer said. Like many artists, behind the scenes, they could become moody during a shoot. Sometimes she would only be allowed a few frames before a performer decided they had had enough.

In time, though, she gained the trust of some of the performers, who eventually allowed her to document their lives and careers.

“They are creative people, very immersed in career,” she said. “Sometimes it makes communication difficult.” But seeing their work made her forget any troubles she may have had with them.

And she was impressed by their dedication to the circus. Many haven’t seen their loved ones in years, traveling across the country year-round, staying in Soviet-era hotels.

She felt as though she was part of a David Lynch film, she said. The circus atmosphere and nomadic lifestyle drew her back to their lives over and over again. She even lived with the troupe for two weeks.

They “are the same as all people with their problems, their families, their thoughts,” Ilina said. She decided to make portraits of the performers, which is the most interesting form of photography to her, she said.

“Faces of the little stars have attracted me a lot.”

“In each of them I could read his story about different things. And every such story was hard to forget.”

- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN