Over the years Nelken had photographed several baby beauty pageants, but he was dissatisfied with the results—until he tried again at the 2005 Delaware County Fair.
“The kids didn’t care because they were toddlers, but it was really the parents trying to control their kids, trying to look nonchalant,” he says. “But they have this fierce sense of competition between them. It was just absolutely wonderful. I knew when I saw it that I had all the gestures in play.”