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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Dan Nelkin

Dates:  1946, 10 May -
Born:  Israel, Tel-Aviv
Active:  Global
American contemporary photographer. 
Artist statement: 
From the book Till the Cows Come Home: County Fair Portraits (Kehrer Verlag)
In farming communities across the United States, the harvest is celebrated annually at county fairs. In some places, this tradition has been established for more than 180 years. As surprising as it may seem in a society saturated with modern diversions, the county fair is proof that an agrarian spirit, not dissimilar to that evident in prior centuries, still is a vital presence.
Family farmers are the core participants in these summer events, yet family-based farming is struggling to retain its economic and cultural relevancy in rural communities while trying to compete with factory farming. Only one quarter of the remaining 2,000,000 farms in America are family-run farms. Yet even with this shrinking family farm base, thirty-five percent of all U.S. counties still hold county fairs.
In New York State for example, where I took most of my photographs, there are 7.66 million acres of farmland and more than 37,000 farms spread throughout 54 counties. The 47 New York County fairs are representative of rural fairs across the country; the core agricultural programs remain the same even though certain elements of county fairs vary regionally. Both young and old alike compete in a variety of categories to win prized ribbons: best in show, best of breed, champion, showmanship. Participants as young as five-years-old work year round to showcase the object of their daily attention: livestock, poultry, vegetables, or flowers.
Befriending some of the families that participated year after year, I was struck by the fact that they take part, not for any significant economic gain, but for the camaraderie and the inner satisfaction of knowing that their year-long efforts might reward them with a blue ribbon or the highly-prized, “Best in Show” purple ribbon. I learned that some had become “part time” farmers out of necessity, relying on more stable occupations for reliable income. However, this part-time status did not diminish their dedication to their farming community.
Every summer since 1998, from July to September, I sought out these three-to-ten day events hoping to document in portraits and still lifes, an agricultural tradition that may be in its sunset years. Aware that others have looked through a lens at similar subject matter, I did not want to beautify the experience or trivialize it through sentimentality. My love of irony, of circumstance, and of the candor of the moment, guided my photographic journey. I hope that when county fair participants look at these photographs they can say to themselves, “Yes, this is truly how it is.”

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Supplemental information

Solo exhibitions
2005 Till the Cows Come Home: County Fair Portraits, The Blue Sky Gallery, Portland, OR
2005 Till the Cows Come Home: County Fair Portraits, Internationale Fotoage Mannheim/Ludwigshaten-Contemporary American Photography, Mannheim, Germany [Curator: Tina Schelhorn, Cologne, Germany - Catalog]
2004 Till the Cows Come Home: County Fair Portraits, Grosvenor Gallery, SUNY Cobleskill, NY
2003 Till the Cows Come Home: County Fair Portraits, Indian Hill Gallery of Fine Photography, Wells, VT [Catalog]
1971 Very Personal Views, Neikrug Gallery, New York, NY [Curator: Cornell Capa, Founder and Director, International Center of Photography, NYC]
Group exhibitions
2009 AIPAD: Robert Morat Galerie, Hamburg Germany, New York, NY
2009 The Centro de la Imagen, Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes: Mexico City, Mexico
2008 Singapore International Photography Festival: Singapore
2008 The Twelfth International Biennial Festival of Photography: Discoveries of the Meeting Place [Curator, Roy Flukinger, Harry Ransom Research Center, in Austin, Texas, USA - Catalog]
2006 Photography Now: An International Survey: Wright State University Art Galleries, Dayton Ohio USA [CD]
2005 Aus Amerika, Galerie Lichtblick, Cologne, Germany
2001 “Self Possessed”, Laguna Gloria Art Museum, Texas Fine Arts Association, Austin, TX . Traveling exhibition [Juror: Lynn Zelevansky, Curatorial Assistant, Museum of Modern Art, NYC | Catalog]
International Center of Photography, New York, NY
Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR
Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Texas
The Center for Photography at Woodstock, Woodstock, NY
Beth Hatefutsoth Museum, Jerusalem, Israel
Awards and Honorss
Critical Mass
Aperture, Portfolio Picks Honorable Mention for Fall 2006: “Smash’em Crash’em: Demolition Derby”
Democratic Book #22, The Rhubarb-Rhubarb free book competition: “Till the Cows Come Home…”  
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