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Work by Meg Birnbaum

From the series Corn Dogs and Blue Ribbons

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Corn Dogs and Blue Ribbons is a portfolio of photographs taken over a two-year period at fourteen summer fairs in New England ranging in size from small 4H events to giant ‘expos’. I was immediately attracted to the young members of 4H and Future Farmers of America. The deep connection with their animals was particularly intriguing and, for me, enviable.

Coming from an urban area, I was surprised and delighted by how open and generous the 4H and FFA communities were. I found fairs to be a complicated balance of startling innocence and huckster sleaze. Everything is for sale, from whirlpool baths to religious salvation. So many disparate elements, and all exist in harmony against a backdrop of gleeful screams, bells and whistles, mixed with the pungent essence of livestock and the aroma of fried food. “We’ll fry anything,” one sign read, and indeed they do: fried dough, fried Oreos, and fried cheesecake just for starters.

This project presents an emotional and somewhat wistful visual record of this long-standing American tradition. I shot with black and white film using extremely basic plastic “toy” cameras because I wanted to lose sharp detail and capture just a fleeting moment, the broad stroke, a distillation of my experience during those hot summer days and nights. Meg Birnbaum is a graphic designer and fine art photographer based in Massachusetts. She has work in the permanent collection at the Museum of Fine Art, Houston, the corporate program of the DeCordova Museum and the art collection of Meditech Corporation. Corn Dogs and Blue Ribbons has been exhibited at the Griffin Museum of Photography and Montserrat College of Art.