State and county fairs in Minnesota are places where you can find from massive stuffed animals to anything you can fry and put on a stick. Proud kids from the countryside bring their well-raised animals to compete for the ultimate price, a Blue Ribbon. Between ferris wheels, barns and games people from all over the US come each summer to the fairs. Fascinated by the diversity of these fairs, photographers Jenn Ackerman and Tim Gruber photographed farmers, kids, teenagers, city dwellers and all the people that come together to experience this well-known American tradition.
How did you guys start shooting this story?
Jenn: We started in 2011 and shoot for a couple of years in different county and state fairs.
Tim: It started of as something we just went to for fun, so we just took a picture here and there – we are very interested in Americana
What’s makes Minnesota different from other states in the US?
Jenn: Well, I grew up in the East Coast so it was definitely a transition for me. It is pretty flat and welcoming, people are friendly. In the Mid-west you go from one city pretty quickly to a rural area, so if you leave Minneapolis you won’t see a city in a pretty long time and that was interesting to me. By moving here, it was the first time I’ve been in fairs. My interest was to explore this and I fell in love with the Minnesota state fair, it was crazy the amount of people! We were just overwhelmed by the how interesting it was.
There’s so many different people in the photos..
Jenn: That’s the interesting part, the people are so different and there really isn’t a stereotype you can nail down, you have kids that grew up in a farm, next to kids that grew up in the city and that’s pretty cool. You gather all these people from all over the sate with different backgrounds and experiences of life but for these two weeks or one week they have the same experience.
Tim: It is a wonderful celebration of the state, you could say. When you go to the state fair is just a sea of people, super crowded. If you don’t like crowds it’s definitively not you environment.
How did you manage to isolate your subjects in such big crowds?
Tim: That was the most difficult part because the crowds are so overwhelming. We are very interested on what happens in the fringe of this celebration, so we spent a lot of time on the edges of the fair and that’s where we roamed, looked for our subjects and constructed our portraits. We like our composition to be very controlled and very clean.
Jenn: Yes, in our project you get the feeling that no one is around, you go to these fairs and they are actually really crowded – but we wanted to create this feeling of isolation, so you can actually see and capture how each person really looks like. Also, we were very mindful of keeping the lighting similar so throughout the fairs we didn’t shoot in a very sunny space, we wanted it to be very consistent.
Why are there so many animals around?
Tim: A lot of kids in the country work during the summer to get their pig or calf ready to take the to the county fair and then, if they win they go to the state fair and compete against the other kids and their animals. They have city people walking around and admiring their animals is a neat experience for them. It gives them a sense of pride that the animal they’ve grown attached to, is able to win and they get a Blue Ribbon. For me the kids are the best part of the whole experience, they just have this energy and glow with their animals.
How is it like to shoot together?
Jenn: We have noticed how even if our approach is a little bit different, we photograph very similar, sometimes we can’t tell who did what photo. We see things very similar and overtime we have merged our vision.
Tim: Also, it makes us seem more approachable, it allows us to take in the experience and not just take photos. Like in the fairs, you can sit down and take a break, grab some food and enjoy the experience.
I’ve got to ask about the food, like in your photos there’s a sign that says cheese on a stick.. What is this?
Jenn: In the fairs in Minnesota they just do everything on a stick, anything you can imagine. And everything is fried – it’s like the worst food becomes even worse for you.
Tim: Like taking a Twinkie and frying it.
Article by: Laura Rodriguez Castro