In the competitions, animals were judged on their breeding and farmers were judged on their execution of protocols for handling their animals. The competitors Nelken met were mostly family or part-time farmers, and they would devote almost an entire week to a competition in which the only reward was a ribbon.
“You could have an animal that would never win Best in Show, but if you know how to show it in the best possible light you could end up winning the showmanship competition,” Nelken says. Here, at the 2001 Delaware County Fair, a future farmer named Jonathan awaits the judges’ decision on his ram.
What fascinated Nelken the most was the time warp he went through each time he visited a county fair.
“Looking at the photographs, I began to realize, also having done the research on other photographs that people had shot over the various decades, there isn’t that much of a difference between 1940s and my image except that theirs is in black-and-white and mine’s in color,” he says.