Meet Me at the Fair

Last week was the annual Carroll County Fair.

Before I moved to the Ozarks it had been 30 years since my last forray into fair participation. I had a $50 mustang filly when I was a kid and I rode gymkhana for a couple of years. I also entered my metal and wood shop projects. The ribbons and satisfaction of the fair were very distant memories.

A few years ago some friends mentioned entering paintings and photos in the fair. I didn’t even know that grown-ups could do such a thing. I checked the rules for participation – technically since I haven’t made diddly squat selling prints, I’m an amateur. I’m not sure how I feel about that in light of my zillion years of experience…

I checked out the categories and picked my best shots to print and enter and – voila – ribbons ensued. Did you know they pay you for the ribbons? That first year I made about 16 bucks in cold hard cash – nevermind that I have three times that in printing and mounting. I was a cash award winner! At this rate in about a hundred years I would be categorized as a professional by the Carroll County Fair Board of Trustees.

The very next year I got my first Pen system camera and tried a bunch of artsy things with old lenses from the 70s. I had a new tripod, a new camera, some old glass and a bellows – I shot this…

Reserve Grand Champion – thank you very much…and I scored 75 bucks! Woooohoooo!

I gave my winnings to Mary Jane my neighbor, it was her flower after all.

For the first couple of years the judges apparently wanted everyone to feel good so they gave out tons of ribbons with no apparent system – the only reason that you might not get one was that you entered your photo in the wrong category. Last year they changed it up. Three places per category. 1st place in each category considered for Grand Champion. Fewer ribbons – less cash – actual judging and results. Some people took this really hard. No ribbon meant that no one liked their work. People took it all too personal. Me, I really could give a rip about the ribbons or the cash – for me it’s about whittling down a years worth of photos to 15-18 pieces that you think are your best. I shoot between 12,000-15,000 photos a year, that’s a lot of whittling.

This year I took home the blue ribbon in 4 of 9 categories, but who’s counting. I bet I make at least 8 bucks! Here’s a few of my shots from this year:




Our county fair does not have legendary fair food, nothing on a stick. It also boasts no butter sculpture, no live bands, no wristband passes. It does have one room of exhibits that includes fine art, dioramas, cookies, jam, and vegetables – none of which are for public consumption. It’s so odd to see a plates of cookies under Saran wrap sitting on a shelf with a ribbons on them – I wonder if cookie bakers have to prove amateur status?

Anyway, I love going to the fair in spite of its deficiencies – I love going to the fair and taking photos. I’ve already posted my chickens, but I also got a chance to spend some lens time with the goats…





Of course no fair is complete without carnival rides and for me the perfect time is right after the sun goes down. I actually brought the wrong lens with me, I thought I had my fast portrait lens, instead I had my macro. I think it worked out though. Zipper, Tilt-a-whirl, carousel – these rides never change…




There’s something sweet and nostalgic about walking through a fair and seeing your neighbor’s best cookies, or watermelons, or chickens, or photos.

You Don’t Eat Your Friends

When I was about 9 years old, my Pop took me with him to a BBQ at a small ranch on the outskirts of Las Vegas. To my delight he was convinced to buy a horse that a woman described only as “green broke”. He paid¬†$50 bucks sight unseen for my new best friend. Somewhere between the tall tales and the sheer volume of Budweiser, he completely forgot about his purchase. The next morning he was surprised by a phone call from the woman asking him to come pick up his horse. The beast was located about a half a mile from the small ranch where we had been the night before so we called the owner to ask what we should do about this little filly. She offered her boarding and training services – Aleda became a fixture of my life for the next several years.

In addition to horses, Aleda raised chickens, all kinds if chickens. Some had colorful plumage, some had big topknots, some were odd-shaped. Some she called her “Albert Einstein” chickens. One day my Pop asked which ones were the best to eat. Appalled, Aleda responded, “You don’t eat your friends!”

Ever since that day I have thought about chickens as pets. I’ve never owned one, but I’ve admired many. When I see the Tyson truck jammed full on the highway I feel a bit saddened. Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t eat your chickens, I’m just saying that they are some pretty amazing creatures. Their personalities are pretty distinctive. My brother Max writes an informative and earnest blog about his chickens – The Fruity Chicken. Through his eyes I have come to see the humor and majesty that these wonderful creatures posses.

Here are some shots of some chickens I have met recently:

This is Gamer – she’s owned by my friend and bird art feeder source (The Norberta Philbrook Gallery) Raven. She says this is the smartest chicken in the yard. I saw her eating out of this watermelon rind like it was a bowl¬†– clearly a smart chick.


This hen has amazing plumage and serious attitude. Raven says she’s at the top of the pecking order and it shows.

She never drops the attitude while giving me the eye.


I got a chance to go to the county fair last week and gaze upon some prize-winning chickens. My 99-year-old friend Mary Jane was with me and although she was unwilling to be photographed (I think she belongs to some uber secret chicken whispering society) she was able to get them to talk back to her.

This guy was all about the profile – poser.

This girl’s been inside too long – clearly looking for an opportunity for a jail break.

This one was talking back to Mary Jane – “Holla!”

This chicken was the most amazing of all – its “Kreskin-like” powers have enabled it to bend the bars of its prison to its own will, echoing the very shape of its piercing eyes.

Who could eat any of these characters? You don’t eat your friends.