Laura had an American Chemical Society meeting Tuesday evening, so I was free to explore. I decided to take my camera out to the Upper South Carolina State Fair.
When I arrived at the fairgrounds, there were a few people, but it wasn’t too terribly crowded I was able to park fairly close to the entrance. I got another surprise as I got to the entrance. It was “Gate Buster” night, so there was free admission to the fair, and $15 for an armband for unlimited rides.
I got there at the height of the “golden hour”. The setting sun bathed the garish colors of the fair, creating a warm pallet with a darkening blue sky accented with clouds.
I quickly discovered that carrying a camera with a large lens and a tripod attracts attention. Other photographers came up and talked to me. Random people asked if I was with a newspaper, or if I was taking photos for the fair itself. I had lots of folks actually invite me to take their pictures. I think I had more random conversations on this trip than any of my previous trips to the fair. Every one of these interactions was pleasant, and I enjoyed chatting with folks from a wide variety of backgrounds.
Of course, the people are one of the main reasons to attend the fair, and there are quite a variety. Carnies have a reputation for being a bit strange. After all, it does take a different type of personality to travel from place to place with a fair. However, it looked like this fair was taking great strides to shed that image, and to present a more polished, professional demeanor. All of the workers were dressed in a standard uniform – a nice polo shirt and slacks, and most didn’t fit the standard image of a carnie. Some got into it more than others, and some looked bored as they took tickets and tried to manage crowds. There were a couple of exceptions, but on the whole they were just folks doing a job.
Of far more interest than the carnies were the local citizenry in attendance. It amazed me what some folks thought was appropriate public attire. One character had on a T-shirt that read “Redneck Porn Star.” I didn’t get a shot of that one. At least this guy wore a warning label – “Tattooed White Trash”…
There seemed to be an even mix of normal folks and strange characters. In some cases it was hard to tell the difference, such as the nice-looking young man who came up to me, flashed a Greenville News employee ID, then started chastising me for taking pictures. He wasn’t quite all there, and someone whom I assume to be his mother came over and intervened.
Then there is the notorious fair food. There were lots of things on sticks…
I didn’t see anything as weird as deep-fried beer or deep-fried butter, but there was certainly enough deep-fried everything else to put a clogging on some arteries.
I’m not sure what a “Walking Taco” is, and I don’t think I really want to find out.
As with everything else at the fair, the food booths themselves were garishly colored in order to attract attention.
For dinner I opted for a Polish Dog and a drink, followed up later by chicken-on-a-stick, with pina colada Italian ice for dessert.
One thing I’ve always found lacking at this fair is the agricultural aspect. There are no 4-H displays, or none of the things that were the historical basis for county fairs. Even so, there seemed to be more booths and displays than I remembered from previous visits. Most of these, however, seemed to be small businesses trying to promote their wares. There was an Avon salesperson, a modeling agency, a massage therapist, and even taxidermy.
As I was photographing the taxidermy display the young woman at the modeling agency booth across the aisle pointed to the stuffed Sasquatch and said, “That ain’t real. He didn’t catch that. It’s fake,” as if there might actually have been some question as to its authenticity. I myself smiled at the juxtaposition of modeling with taxidermy.
By this time the sun had set enough so that the lights on the rides and arcades were really standing out. It was time to pull out the tripod and get some longer exposure shots with motion blur.
Before I knew it, I had spent three hours taking photos and wandering around the relately small fairgrounds. Now I’ve been bitten by “fair fever” and want to try out other state and county fairs. I understand that the Mountain State Fair is taking place near Asheville this weekend. I may need to head up that way.
4 thoughts on “An Evening at the Fair”
Tom, these are fantastic! I love taking photos at the fairgrounds… especially night shots.
We no longer have an Anderson County Fair and its becoming increasingly difficult to drive from my home near the Hartwell Dam to the Upper State Fair and the like for night shots as it would put me so late getting home. (I already have a 104-mile round trip commute each day so I get tired of driving period!)
My last effort was at a small traveling carnival in the Anderson Mall parking lot:
Again, I loved your shots as well as your commentary on the vast array of personalities you encountered!
It’s a shame that the county fairs seem to be fading into the past. I didn’t know that the Anderson County Fair was gone. I know the Greenville County Fairground is now a flea market.
I may try to catch the Laurens County Fair when it comes along (assuming they still have it.)
Good point about the fairs going away. Dad made the comment that most (PIF, for example) are more “carnivals” than real “fairs.” We used to have a pretty good one in Spartanburg when I was growing up, but that’s been a long time ago. Not sure what is happening over there anymore.
Love the night shots. I’d love to have seen some of the old Spartanburg fair at night. Those bright lights make for fascinating shots. Thanks for putting them on the web.
I think the plight of the county fair may be subject for an upcoming post.