Till the Cows Come Home:
County Fair Portraits

My work examines the divergent range of life, activities and obsessions at county fairs. 

At the heart of the project are the stories of the participants. In one short week, their year-long commitment culminates in an exhaustive and explosive outlet of self-expression. Weariness, elation, humility, humor, camaraderie, pride, and disappointment are lashed together as keenly as an oxen team.

As family farms disappear, what remains of the underlying value system struggles to survive in the community. My portraits are intended to reflect the passions and ethos of this disappearing society.

Using available light, I photograph participants within the fair environment. Some are formal portraits of individuals with the object(s) of their devotion – pigs, poultry, cows, sheep, goats and rabbits. Other informal portraits capture those on the sidelines awaiting, observing, or resting between competitions. Portraits of animals and inanimate creations round out the body of work.

During the past seven summers I have set out to document all the county fairs reachable from a base in Delaware County, New York. While most fairs are scheduled within a seven-week period from early July through Labor Day, I have managed to attend and photograph up to eight fairs per season. While these images are all from New York county fairs, my interviews and research indicate that the core programs remain the same across many states and even internationally.

— Dan Nelken


Till the Cows Come Home
by Dan Nelken
Hardcover, 120 pages
Kehrer Verlag
9 x 8.9 inches
ISBN-13: 978-3939583875
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