Black and white images tell a powerful tale and let the subject speak for themselves; they are raw, stripped back, and allow you to feel something authentic. While state fairs are full of colorful images and vibrant details; I wanted to capture the feel and history of a time that we weren’t privileged to be a part of. There is an intense magic in black and white that is impossible to explain; only to feel. The story is in the shadows and highlights, in the details and in the mystique. Black and white photos tread that fine line between tradition and modern sophistication that provide the fleeting reality of a captivating image. State and County fairs began in the United States with a first gathering in Syracuse, New York back in 1841. The judging of livestock in the U.S. began in the 19th century where you will see some antique black and white photographs of competitors parading their charges in front of the judges. Elkanah Watson, a wealthy New England Farmer and businessman, is often given credit for the idea of the state fair; he was known for showcasing his sheep in the public square back in 1807 in Massachusetts. The Northern Wisconsin State Fair is a time honored enduring summer tradition with compelling roots tied to the 18th century.
As it reads on the marker thats holds steadfast to the fairgrounds:
Primarily rural in the 19th Century. Wisconsin promoted the state fair to advance better state farming practices. Since 1851 to the present, this fair has been held in southern Wisconsin. Recognizing the impracticality of entering or attending the Southern Wisconsin State Fair, Chippewa Falls area citizens drafted a charter to create the Northern Wisconsin State Fair. Enacted in 1897 by the State of Wisconsin, the fair was to “Improve agriculture, horticulture and mechanical and household arts.” Encompassing a 27 county district, the Northern Wisconsin State Fair has played a central role in northern Wisconsin for over 100 years.
To these fairground self-sufficient farming families brought their best efforts in raising chickens, sheep, cows, rabbits, horses and pigs and displayed their horticultural skills in prized pies, breads and canned goods. As Wisconsin became more urbanized, the Northern Wisconsin State Fair reflected developments in industry and technology from Model Ts to satellite dishes. Today, these fairground buildings still display the best of individual and community achievement in northern Wisconsin.
“The fair has never been about the rides for me. It’s about the little kid who’s showing an animal for the very first time, the last year member winning awards and trophies they’ve never had before, the 115 pound girl hanging onto her steer despite everything because she’s tougher than the steer’s 1300 pounds of muscle and bone. Above all else, the fair is about the friendships and camaraderie that grows from when I was the exhibitor to now being the parent and spending time with the same kids I did 20 years ago.” – Renee
Life and death on the farm is a certainty that is depended on for the survival of the farming community. This leads to heart wrenching experiences for children who raise animals from birth to then sell them at the county fair for a profit as they go for slaughter. This brutal part of responsibility is a necessary evil in the industry of agriculture. The skills learned in raising livestock instill values and an empowered work ethic that is unparalleled to those of their peers who do not share in the same farming experiences. These kids take great pride and care in raising the animal, feeding, grooming, bathing, preparing it for market; in essence giving the animal a home. There is often a connection and bond between the animal and its caretaker that is unmatched by how we raise pets today; these kids know when the end is. It is an impressive feat to watch the maturity of these young learners who lead their prized animals to the trailer of the purchaser; knowing their fate will end in the circle of life.
“The fair for me is about showing my cattle and making bonds with my friends that’ll last a lifetime. I’m a third generation showman and not a lot of people show cattle and I’m very proud to say I do. I’ve learned a lot about myself like just how strong I am and can be. I’ve made so many friends and I’m sure many of those friendships will last a lifetime. And now that my time to show cattle is about to be over, I appreciate it way more.” – Haley
“I love seeing the expressions on the kids’ face while on rides at the fair!” – Kate
“The bumblebee ride poses as threatening to some, under the age of 3, but seeing the excitement on the children’s faces as they throw a baseball and win a magnificent skull bat or blow up dolphin, makes life superior…if only for a few moments.” – Traci
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