For this project I chose to try and depict the significant changes to places during the visit of a travelling fair. Fairs have been part of British culture for centuries and have long been associated with the idea of a ‘holiday at home’, a chance for people to temporarily put aside their daily lives and have some fun. In my own developing practice I find I am more drawn to the more quotidian aspects of people’s lives and concerns. Depicting the British at leisure provides many photographic opportunities and artists like Simon Roberts, Tony Ray-Jones and more recently Martin Parr have made good use of this idea as a subject. Rather than leisure itself I wanted to focus on the transformational effect of a visiting fair on the places themselves. Although travelling fairs are not exclusively a British concept, in many cases they are only an extension of events that have been part of British culture and history for centuries. Martin Parr‘s photograph “Morris Dancers” (Williams and Bright,2007:147), originally from his book “The Cost of Living”, is a good example of how this type of event can produce an anachronistic effect; something that belongs and is out of place at the same time.
Martin Parr – Morris Dancers
I have produced fourteen photographs for this project, taken at various fairs in Oxfordshire towns and villages from August to October 2019. These are the ones that best depict the border point where a place becomes something radically different for the duration of the fair’s visit. In the image below the scale and colour of the fairground ride is in direct contrast to the gravestones. Graveyards are a reminder to us all of our mortality, but the fair evokes feelings of energy, vigour and youthfulness.
This next one provides a wry, humorous contrast; a hint of ‘live fast, die young’. The parking restriction sign also reminds us that a fair is an excuse to forget the rules, at least for a short while.
While preparing the fourteen photographs I have selected for this work, I have been reading around the subject of post-modernism and the way it relates to photography. Andy Grundberg describes how critics involved in this discussion say that “post-modernist art therefore must debunk or ‘deconstruct’ the ‘myths’ of the autonomous individual” (Wells,2003:246). Although he then goes on to explore the idea that post-modern art cannot be seen as a complete break with modernist traditions, I am intrigued by the idea of adding distance to my images, to present them in a way that modifies my authorial stance. Sophie Calle in her work “Take Care of Yourself” asked other women to respond to an email from her boyfriend at the time ending their relationship. My project has little in common with her intentions but I was intrigued by the idea of crowdsourcing responses. Martin Parr’s “Boring Postcards” photobook, which although not of his own photographs, did suggest an approach. I made the fourteen images into individual postcards and sent them each to a friend with a request to add some words suggested by the visit of a fair, and then return the card to me. My intention here was to explore the idea that a visit from a fair will produce a largely common response in all of us. A few people are not attracted but most of us like the idea of a fair, even if we don’t actually go on any of the rides. By asking for impressions from others I could confirm or deny that assumption, and receiving replies in the form of postcards would also further associate my project with the idea of being on holiday.
The effect of transferring these images to postcard alters the colour and brightness and gives them a more mass-produced quality than photo-printing. I included a stamp and self-addressed each card as I wanted the cards to be returned by post. It would not be enough for the cards to be returned by hand; I wanted them to gather the additional effects that the postal system will provide. I wanted to include any postmarks, or slight dents caused by excessive handling, even creases if they have to be forced in any way.
Those who responded range in age from under 10 to over 60, and the words chosen vary from careful thoughts to purely humorous. Thirteen of the fourteen cards have been returned; the last is, as I have recently found out, still waiting to be returned. I deliberately left the request for comments very open; apart from not wanting this to be an onerous task, I was interested to see if the returned responses were to the general idea of a fair or to the specific image on the card. In fact only one response related to the card itself and the rest did just consider the idea of a fair in general. I think that the responses that are not about the specific image work better; with these the postcard image and the response work as counterpoints to each other. My images are deliberately downbeat and mundane, but the responses are for the most part words of excitement at the thought.
Since the postcards themselves will form my finished project here, I have decided to present them as a small book with each postcard shown front and back on opposite pages, along with some accompanying contextual writing. Although the book itself will form my final work, I have included the images and text here.
Andy Grundberg – The Crisis of the real
collected in Liz Wells (2003): The Photography Reader: London:Routledge
Williams, V. and Bright, S. (2007) How We are: Photographing Britain. (01 edition) (s.l.): Tate Publishing.
Parr, M. (2004) Boring Postcards. (New Edition) (s.l.): Phaidon Press.