Meg Birnbaum Statement

Artist Statement
Corn dogs, Blue Ribbons and the American Pastoral

Passing through the gates of the first fair since I was a kid, I was surprised at how vividly I remembered the fairs of my youth and I found myself smitten again.

The connection between the 4H participants and their animals were of particular interest. Living in a city, I was surprised by the look-you-in-the-eye honesty and the generous sharing of breed information that I received. After all of the love and care the 4H members generate for their animals and each other, how do they say goodbye at the end of the fair season and start again the next spring?

I was touched by the devoted volunteer work and planning that goes into commanding so many layers of activity to happen simultaneously. And I found that, as I had remembered, fairs are a complicated balance of startling innocence and huckster sleaze. Everything is for sale; from whirlpool baths to religious salvation. All of these disparate elements exist in harmony against a backdrop of gleeful screams, bells and whistles and the aroma of fried dough mixed with the pungent essence of livestock and exotic poultry.

Most of the fairs that I attended are over one hundred years old and will hopefully last for another hundred. But, as the number of independent American farmers decreases, I wonder about the future of farm animals and farm life. Will organizations like the Future Farmers of America and 4H continue to educate, nourish and interest tomorrow's students in an agricultural career? Will the future of these summer fairs rely on a continuing shift away from agriculture to entertainment .... mostly food, specifically fried food; fried Oreo cookies, fried cheesecake “We’ll fry anything” one sign read.

Process Statement
This series was shot with 120mm black and white film, using plastic “toy” cameras. The negatives are scanned and printed with an Epson printer on archival paper. Because the fairs have changed so little over the last century I felt that using toy cameras and film were a good match for creating a timeless appearance. I find that these tools best illustrate the idea of memory, the then or now of it. I purposely wanted to lose sharp modern detail and instead capture a fleeting moment, an iconic image, the distillation of the experience.

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