Book Review: American Fair
By Peru McCarra
In her book American Fair, Pamela Littky uses a collection of images of the titular celebrations to reminisce and focus on the joy of the carnival experience. She captures the undying patriotic and communal photographs using the most unabashed and uncontrived viewpoint possible. Living in the diverse and busy Los Angeles city, Littky sought to satisfy her need for a strong community with ventures through many Midwestern and Southern states.
Each page invites us into the unguarded moments of the fair-goers. In many of the images, young cowboys and cowgirls are seen preparing for their performances and competitions. Litsky’s choice of shooting the subjects from behind or from their side profile allows the audience to enjoy these unfamiliar lives without feeling they are intruding on them. Many cheerleaders and pageant queens are also photographed using similar perspectives. Perhaps the prints’ most notable feature is how the artist renders the vibrant colors of the ticket booths, tents, rides, and casual clothing all worn by the fair attendees. Large clouds and big blue skies create a dream-like, nostalgic mood, and the grandiose, shimmery signs for food and ticket booths offer welcome and warmth.
Littky stays true to her narrative of the public’s experience by continuing to shoot people, architecture and campgrounds, never getting distracted by the actual attractions or the games themselves. In this approach, she is emphasizing how anticipation, excitement, and joy truly define the carnival atmosphere. Although there is much activity going on, the photographer also acknowledges the fair’s lazy, carefree moments, including teenagers laying on the grass and kids and parents sitting on benches savoring their ice cream, snow-cones, and sodas.
Consistent with a communal feel, images of the American flag pattern can be seen on rides, on balloons, and in some of the clothing of the attendees. The audience can easily understand that there is strong patriotic pride in these Southern and Midwestern communities. In welcome contrast with the high tensions of political discourse in the 21st century, Littky successfully offers a gentle reminder of our strong capability to maintain communal traditions.