For the next seven years, Nelken traveled to any county fair within a three-hour drive of his vacation home. At first, he photographed many different elements of fair life: the agriculture, the midway, the merchants, the spectators. Each, in his view, could be the subject of a great photographic essay. But in the end, he chose to focus on the agricultural competitions—what he calls “the original concept of country fairs”—and the farmers who entered them.
In the photo above, Jessica Goblet—the 2003 New York State Maple Queen—shows off one of her family’s prize-winning sheep at the Schoharie County Sunshine Fair while her father, Jim Goblet, adjusts the animal’s legs. Jessica’s three siblings also show their livestock, including sheep, pigs and cows.