I’m an extreme extrovert – I thrive when I’m around others, and I love talking to and meeting new people. So, when I decided to go to the Minnesota State Fair alone in 2019, I was surprised at the extreme feelings of anxiety and panic I experienced as soon as I entered the front gate. It took a moment or two before my mind caught up with my eyeballs. Once I realized how many people I would get to meet, camera in hand, I snapped back into the moment and dove in.
As I wandered through the thick crowd of fairgoers carrying fried food and oversized stuffed animals, the sounds of “Ope! Excuse me!” and “Ope! Sorry!” was a constant drum I could march to as I weaved through the horde. The veteran fairgoers, with their shade hats, moseyed, eyes up with a bucket of Sweet Martha’s Cookies in hand, while the young Gen-Z’s carried giant stuffed unicorns and watched everything happen through their mobile devices.
I made my way to the MPR booth for the live taping of Almanac. Both Eric Eskola and Cathy Wurzer matched their surroundings – wearing different shades of MPR blue – while the rest of the Twin Cities PBS staff sported a complimentary color of purple. The live show went off seemingly without a hitch – Kevin Kling reminding the viewers that, “Life isn’t fair, life IS a fair!”
The Miracle of Life building lived up to its name. While there, a group of fairgoers and I witnessed a calf being born – and the surprisingly large creature was literally pulled out with the help of three able-bodied humans and a chain. As the birth unfolded right there before our eyes, I could see every range of human emotion on the faces of the onlookers across from me: amazement, horror, disgust, fascination.
In the same building there were other cute baby animals, most likely born a week, days or even mere hours prior to my arrival. Just down the street, you can see what the same animals look like once they get a bit older, and fairgoers throng to the barns to see the sheep, cows and horses as they’re primped to competition perfection. One thought is not lost on me as I walk through the barns: Everywhere else at the fair, you’re able to indulge yourself in the product of these animals – fried Scotch eggs, all-you-can-drink milk, giant turkey legs and so much more! The Minnesota State Fair sponsored by: the Circle of Life.
I only meandered through the Mighty Midway. Carnival rides are not high on my list of to-dos in life. I understand the statistics of being seriously hurt is near one in 16 million, but do I really want to take that chance? Plus, after eating my weight in fried everything, the last thing I need is to be spinning while turned upside down.
When all is said and done, the Minnesota State Fair is the ultimate spectacle. The variety of food, music and activities is purely amazing. With around two million people visiting annually, it’s a people-watcher’s dream event and an agoraphobic’s nightmare.
But for a photographer? It’s an endless feast for the eyes – and the lens.
All photos by Matt Mead.
Need more Minnesota State Fair in your life? In addition to seed art, butter-carved busts of the Princess Kay of the Milky Way finalists is also about as Minnesota as it gets. Meet Linda Christensen, the woman behind the magic.
Minnesota State Fair, circa 1992. Step back in time and meet some of the people who make the Fair spectacularly Minnesotan.
R.J. Kern is the first photographer chosen as the Minnesota State Fair’s Commemorative Artist – and the piece he created for the 2019 Great Get-Together features a variety of farm animals chosen as Supreme Champions in their respective competitions. But by day? He’s a martial artist.