Williams, V. and Bright, S. (2007) How We are: Photographing Britain. (01 edition) (s.l.): Tate Publishing.
I have taken around 250 photographs for this assignment, visiting four different fairs in places around Oxfordshire. The location vary from a small village, two market towns, and the centre of Oxford. Of these 250 photographs, I have tentatively selected 32 as a long list to use here.
I’ve deliberately tried to avoid the traditional picturesque view of a fair, and have attempted to focus on the spaces between the location in its otherwise daily form, and what it becomes for the duration of the fair. As part of this investigation I have looked at examples of how other photographers have worked with this idea and have not found many at all. Susan Bright and Val Williams book, produced to accompany the exhibition of the same name, does provide one good example at least. Martin Parr has often depicted images of the British at home; not necessarily in their home but at large in their own environment. His photograph “Morris Dancers” (Williams and Bright,2007:147), originally from his book “The Cost of Living”, is a good example of what I am looking into here.
The Morris dancers interrupt the normal (saturday?) experience of the local people with a performance that is intended to provide a link to the past, to when the location was much more rural. The town itself would be there but would likely be a market centre, where people come from surrounding villages to trade livestock, and sell and buy produce. This life is mostly long gone, to be replaced by a much more abstract consumerism, buying products with little or no idea of the origin. The dancers want to remind the shoppers about the town’s rural historical origins. In the photograph though, apart from one woman who is striding past, no-one is looking at them. The performance is only there as a temporary distraction.
Travelling fairs are by their nature a lot harder to ignore than Morris dancers but there is still the idea of providing a very approximate link to an imagined past. We know it is not historically accurate anymore, but we can still enjoy the spectacle.