Image above: Portrait by Harold Lee Miller.
Society moves forward, cities flourish, iPhones dominate, and superficial materialism runs rampant. But nestled in small towns of the Midwest, time rewinds and stands still, if only for a moment. These moments are full of whirling carousels and the pungent smell of manure mixed with fried food wafting out of junk food alley. Children drag their parents to see the year’s prize pig and the slop of local celebrities scrounging down multiples of his dearly departed brother. Snaggletooth smiles beam brightly, celebrating that very first satin blue ribbon, soon to be pinned on the barn wall and, over the years, joined by a rainbow of accompanying prizes. This is the Midwest carnival, the county fair, the 4H club, the harvest festival. This is tradition, pride, and a right of passage. This is the life of a Hoosier.
©Harold Lee Miller. Alisha Hibler
Harold Lee Miller set out to capture this lifestyle that appeared foreign and imaginary to the rest of the country. He once held the belief that fair culture was fading away into history, a dying habit of onestoplight towns with free-falling population numbers. But once Miller moved to Indiana to work on his book, Fair Culture, he realized he walked into a bourgeoning society that wasn’t going to quit any time soon. These small town annual traditions have survived wars, depressions, industrialization, and natural disasters, proving that it will take more than a little technology to stamp them out.
©Harold Lee Miller. Dancers at 4H Building.
©Harold Lee Miller, (left) Jordan Dukes and Taylor Woodmansec: (right) Natalie Bowman.
Of course the Midwest isn’t completely inundated with farm folk. When visiting bigger cities, a large chunk of conversation is devoted to convincing people that things are pretty urbanized, or at least suburban.But no matter how city slicker a Midwesterner may appear, or how well they adapt to a place that isn’t surrounded by corn fields, they always will be a sucker for a county fair.
©Harold Lee Miller, Susan and Davide Zoppe with Afghan Dogs, Rhesus Monkeys
In a way it relates to our human nature. People yearn for something simple and nostalgic, a place to go and avoid the bombardment of to do lists or work memos. A childish carnival with the family may be the solution to a hard day in the office or the leaning tower of laundry. Perhaps it would benefit the rest of high-strung America if we sent some of that hometown spirit to the big cities. Herd the cattle, bake the pies, race the barrels and stop to smell the freshly fried Oreos. It’s hard to picture the scene amidst sky scrapers, but trust a Hoosier, it’s worth it.
©Harold Lee Miller, Kronx of Elkhart.
by Ashley Minyard