A car, a camera, no map, and no plan… This is how I’d like to capture America. I’d like to get lost on the back roads, stay in (bed-bug free) mom and pop motels, eat at Apple Pie diners, and capture raw America in timeless images (think Robert Frank’s The Americans). Until then, I’ll settle for visiting the occasional county fair… Somehow fairs and carnivals all seem to maintain that yesteryear quality, almost like stepping into a time capsule.
At the beginning of the summer I talked to my wife about my desire to do a series where I visit various fairs, carnivals, and festivals and document them for my This Is America project but with a new child it has proven difficult… But not impossible. The Westmoreland County Fair was the largest fair I could find within about an hour drive. I’m not opposed to driving further but I had a small window and that is the time frame that worked. I grabbed my Leica, my camera bag, a little cash, and headed out the door.
Carnivals or fairs have a cornucopia of visual delights that could keep even the most seasoned street photographer busy for a lifetime. Hand painted rides, crazy outfits, tattoos galore, bright colors, juxtapositions, etc… Add to that the great attitude and stories that the carnival workers possess and you’ve got a great atmosphere to practice street photography. The shot directly above really stood out to me because of the awesome custom art work on the “ride” and how the harsh light emphasized the shadows. I tried to incorporate layering into this image but ended up with the two boys in the foreground facing the wrong way… This is the rub with street photography where you aren’t posing people. You get what you get. This was the last of a series of 4 images where these boys walk past me and I would have loved to have them facing the camera but when they were on the left they covered the man sitting with the red shirt under the umbrella and for this shot to work in my mind he was key.
Before visiting I did a little due diligence and found out there was a swings ride (above and featured at the top of the article) at the fair and I began to envision the photos that I always liked taken at amusement parks where the shutter speed is slowed slightly and the swing creates an awesome light trail. In fact, I even packed my tripod for the off-chance that the fair setting would lend itself to a shot like that. With that being said, I also wanted to try to capture a shot that was inspired by photographs like that but had my own style baked in. The shot directly above this paragraph was my favorite one from the fair and satisfied my self-imposed criteria.
Have you noticed that a lot of people have been falling off of rides or being thrown from roller coasters this year? You’d understand why if you’d take a quick visit to your local carnival. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that had I leaned even slightly forward this ride would have knocked my head clean off of my body. Of course I immediately thought “this would make an awesome photograph!”. I loved the uninhibited smile of the teenage girl sitting white knuckled in the ride. I grew up with two sisters and remember their teens… It was a lot like living with angry, vindictive cats that only smile to lure you closer before they pounce and claw your face off (I’m only half kidding). So for me, it was the juxtaposition between her expression and what I imagine a typical teenage girl to look like that caught my attention.
The colors in this shot begged to be photographed. Had I been shooting with a different lens I would have pulled up nice and tight to the tattoos on his arm and the thumb on the button… Something like below:
The little girl making friends with the animals wasn’t the first thing I noticed. The only reason I stopped in this barn was the incredible lighting. The animals were kicking up dust and with the direct sunlight it was creating some awesome light rays. Notice the surprised look on the little girl? That’s because the goat was peeing like a fire-hose.
Prized cows are like members of a farmer’s family. There were many instances where I saw kids laying with their animals in the hay. It struck me that in many countries this may seem quite odd but it was business as usual here.
There were many more shots, some you will never see and others you will have to wait for the book… Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.