My fascination with fairs started when I was very young. The colors, the lights, the people and garishness and throwing up on wild rides like The Zipper were everything for me. Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey, Coney Island in New York and all fairs in between thrilled me to no end.
In South Florida we have a yearly fair known as The Dade County Youth Fair. I’ve been attending since I was 12. Fast-forward to 2009, and I’m making my yearly visit to the fair I love. This time I was armed with my tiny Leica D-Lux 4 camera. I wasn’t interested in riding for some reason and was just snapping lazily at the food concessions and rides. The images appearing in the camera captivated me. I was “seeing” the fair photographically for the first time. Everything fell into place beautifully and I once again fell in love with the Fair. In 2012 I was granted a sabbatical from the university to travel and photograph state fairs around the country. It was a life changing experience for me as a persona and as an artist.
The journey to make these pictures exposed a sad beauty in a Midwest hard hit by extreme drought in 2012. For hundreds of miles I drove from one state to the next, dead and dying cornfields going on as far as the eye could see. I stopped a few times to make images of this, to somehow voice this sadness in the body of work I was generating. But each time I pulled into a state fair, I would kick into hyper-reality overdrive. The pictures that emerged were giddy and eclectic, full of colorful rides, glorious summer skies and people doing what they do at fairs: having fun.
The original intention of this project was to make a visual comparative analysis of cultural regions and their customs by looking at state fairs. As I began the project, I went into the state fair tour expecting (as usually happens) for the work to provide the answers to the questions with which I approached it. Turns out the answers were quite different.
The dichotomy of the experience taught me a lesson about preconceived notions and attempting to photograph answers before questions. As an artist it seems the work is often more about myself, engaged but observing, the thing photographed. And what the lasting memory of the work communicates is our personal connections to the life we live, visually and with great joy.