Some assignments are more fun than others. Over the last year, I drove thousands of miles exploring county fairs across Florida.
Let me back up. Our special projects team wanted to take a look at county fair culture across the state. As we talked it through, things fell into their natural places. The biggest fair. The oldest fair. The biggest midway. You get the picture. Each fair I visited had a unique focus.
The first on my long list was the Volusia County Fair. The fair is known for having a high concentration of entertainment and sideshows. I got there early so I could try and meet the entertainers before they went on.
Some of the first people I met were the Hansen family. The mom, dad and three daughters travel the country performing their acrobatic routine. They let me backstage as they warmed up. What caught my eye the most were the details that showed that this way of life was all these girls knew. This was home for them.
I also met a husband and wife magic duo. They let me in their trailer as they prepared for their show.
I had to keep in mind that this fair and the entertainers were only a portion of the project. While I could have shot entertainer after entertainer, I tried to spend more time with a more focused selection. The last person I spent time with was a man who had trained monkeys.
After the Volusia County Fair in Nov. 2017, I had some downtime. Most of the other fairs we were covering weren’t until March and April. In between, I followed a local girl who was raising a steer for the livestock show and sale at the Sumter County Fair.
This is when fair season really started to kick into high gear. It seemed like I was constantly on the road over the next few weeks. The next stop was Orlando for the Central Florida Fair where I focused on the midway.
From there, I hit the road down to Miami and then Naples. Miami has the largest fair in the state. In fact it’s larger than the state fair. It was also the only fair that mandated that we have an escort from someone on the fair staff. The crowds were pretty thin until later in the evening at which point they kicked us out. They didn’t want to dedicate any more resources to us and apparently they didn’t trust us to wander the fairgrounds in a responsible manner. It’s unfortunate as the photos don’t reflect the massive size without the crowds.
Naples was a whole different story. Our focus at the Collier County Fair was the demolition derby. They gave me full access, including offering to let me ride in one of the cars. I declined as there were no safety devices for a passenger. I did however mount a GoPro in one of the cars to get the view from the inside.
Next I was off to the Suwannee County Fair in Live Oak. The fair is the oldest in the state. One of the fair’s traditions is to hold a corn boil. That was my focus during my visit.
Next I was off to the Clay County Fair to cover their pageant. My photo editor worked with me in Rockford where I covered countless pageants. She thought I had a knack for getting great reaction and emotion from the events. That was one of the reasons I was put on this project in the first place. This pageant was smaller than I was used to and lacked big reactions, but it was still fun to cover. I made sure to get there early so I could meet up with some of the contestants as they got ready for the event.
My last fair was a local one. The Lake County Fair. And this one was our filler fair. I had no particular focus. I was just shooting a little bit of everything.
The project was many months in the making. It was rewarding to see it publish in October as fair season was starting back up.
There are many photos that ended up on the cutting room floor. If you’re interested in seeing more of them, there are two galleries on The Villages Daily Sun’s website. One gallery is for most of the fairs. The second is specifically for the story of Amber Barnes raising her steer.