The Big E – Durham Fair Road Trip

Seven pictures.  Two locations.  One day.

For the first time in my photographic competition career, I’m going to try to visit two fairs in one day.  This is how my schedule stacks up; my original plan was to go on Sunday night, but Sunday night is reserved for the lunar eclipse, and I can’t reschedule that.

So my goal is to start with a trip to the Big E in Springfield, Mass., where three of my pictures – Aerochrome Falls, Just Vic and Parabola: From Hadley to Corinth – are on display.  And I have to arrive early; last year, I showed up on what must have been the busiest day of the Big E’s 2014 run, and the parking lots were filled to capacity.

Since the Big E judges each picture individually – a category can have more than one “first prize” ribbons, for example – I’m not really competing against any other photos at the Big E.  Instead, I’m receiving consideration based on the judges’ observations.

Traffic’s a little tight, but I finally get to the parking area known as Gate 1 – a gate right near the front entrance, a gate specifically designated for fair competitors.  An attendant tore a stub off my yellow mirror hangtag, and sent me in the direction of the parking area.

Oh look, there’s some spots, this will be perfect, all I need to do is wait for someone to move that hazard tape and sawhorses so that I can enter the parking lot.

“You can’t park there, sir,” said the elderly attendant.

“Yes I can,” I replied.  “See?  I have the hangtag here for Gate 1.  And this is Gate 1.”

“You can’t park there, sir.”

“Why not?”

“Today is Trustees Day at the Big E.  This area is reserved for trustees and their families.  You have to go park somewhere else.”

“Wait, no, no, I have this hangtag and it says I can park in Gate 1 – ”

“Gate 1 is full, sir.  You have to go park somewhere else.”

I looked at the parking area.  There were plenty of open spots.

“Well, what am I supposed to do?”

The attendant looked at me as if I suggested that Tom Brady was less than saintly.

“Well, you can stay right here and if someone pulls out, you can take their spot.”

I looked at my wristwatch.  9:45 a.m. on a Saturday.

Ahh, what the hell.  Give it a try.

Ten minutes later, someone knocks on my driver’s side window.

It’s another attendant.  “You can’t park here.  You have to move.”

“I’m waiting for someone to pull out so that I can pull in.  The other attendant told me this was acceptable.”

“No he didn’t.  You need to move.”

Oh I can tell this is going to be one of THOSE days.

“So where am I supposed to move?”

“You have to go to Gate 9.”

Now for those of you who are unfamiliar with the Big E layout, Gate 9 is on the other side of the Fairgrounds.  It’s about a gazillion miles away.

“So what am I supposed to do?” I asked.

“Pull out, go back to the main road, and go into Gate 9.”

“I can’t do that.”

“Yes you will.”

“Your attendant tore my hangtag stub.  If I leave, then I have to pay full price to get into the Fair.”

Eventually that attendant and two others huddled together.

They came back to my car.

“Drive around this back area.  It will take you to Gate 9 parking.”

And sure enough, after navigating through a pathway that would have been too narrow for a unicycle, I arrived at Gate 9 – where I was immediately sent ALL THE WAY to the farthest location in the entire parking lot.


Half an hour later, I finally get into the Fairgrounds.  And it’s packed.

Normally I would do my superstition of visiting three of the Fairgrounds’ “statehouses,” and then visit the New England Center and see how my photos did.

Not this time.  I’m cheezed off.  This seriously cheezes me off.

Straight to the New England Center; maybe on the way I can decompress a bit.

“Hi, would you like a free T-shirt?” asked a young woman, as she nearly threw a Chevrolet Camaro T-shirt at me.

“Sure, you have one in extra-large?” I asked.

“We do, but you need to go fill out a survey and put down your personal information and an e-mail and …”

I didn’t stick around to hear the rest of the schpiel.

Okay, made it to the New England Center.  And right off the bat, I find Aerochrome Falls.

Honorable mention for Aerochrome Falls!
Honorable mention for Aerochrome Falls!

Okay, nice start… As I walked around the display walls, I saw that blog reader Julie Garris picked up two blue ribbons for her excellent photos, and my buddy Robert Burger also picked up some silk at the Big E.

Parabola: From Hadley to Corinth, 2nd place!

Finally, Parabola: From Hadley to Corinth picked up a ribbon, a red one for a second place earning!  Sweet!

Now I have to look for Just Vic.  This is a picture I took of a Saratoga Harness racing colt who returned to the track after suffering a nasty spill earlier this year.  Oh there he is –

Second place for Just Vic!

There we go!  Just Vic finishes in the money!

And as much as I wanted to stick around the Big E and celebrate these achievements, I knew I had more travels on the schedule.  Plus, I’m still steamed about the parking issue.

Now it’s time to haul tail and head to Durham, Connecticut, the site of the Durham Fair.  One hour trip from Springfield.

I have four photos at the Durham Fair – Aerochrome Falls, Parabola: From Hadley to Corinth, Vivaldi’s Pond and Jessica: Instamatic Dichotomy.  But because of Sunday night’s lunar eclipse – again, with the lunar eclipse – I figured I’d sneak over and see how my pictures looked on a Saturday.  Plus, it’s my first time visiting the Durham Fair, and I’d actually like to see how this fair operates.

And since this is my first time at the Durham Fair, I hope it’s less chaotic than my earlier experience today.

Peaceful drive into Connecticut, past Hartford and New Haven and here we are…

Lots of sign directing me to park somewhere.  Well, my GPS tells me to go straight, but if these parking signs are official… I’d better follow them.

Ten minutes later, I arrive at a place either called Stickland Farm or Strickland Farm (saw it printed both ways).  $5 later, I was driving though a dusty, bumpy, air-choked field.  What do they grow on this farm, moon craters?

After parking, we were herded onto old school buses and sent on a ride toward the Durham Fair.  Ah, memories of school buses – I’m immediately transferred back to grade school, at a time when ten seats open by the time I got on the bus, and all of them were suddenly “reserved” or “taken” by people who would rather eat boogers than let me sit with them.

I arrived at the Durham Fair, and the first thing I can tell you about this fair is that it’s on a serious incline.  The Fairgrounds are on several hills – you go uppity-up-up to visit one barn, you go downdiddy-down-down to see another.

And sure enough, uppity-up-up is where the personal skills barn is located – the one with the photography competition.

All my pictures are displayed, and the Durham Fair Photography Competition’s rules state that instead of receiving ribbons next to the pictures, each awarded picture would receive a colored dot, with the entrants receiving matching ribbons after the Fair concludes.

Okay, does Aerochrome Falls earn three ribbons this year?


Nope.  No dot.

How about Parabola: From Hadley to Corinth?  Two ribbons in one day?


Nopes.  That blue dot is for the picture above it.

Hey look, there’s Vivaldi’s Pond over at the edge of the display section –


Yellow ribbon for third place.  Okay.  That’s two ribbons for my lenticular print.

Only one picture left, my splitfilm shot –


Blue dot.  Blue dot!  BLUE DOT, BLUE FOR FIRST PLACE!

There we go!!  My first photo with Instamatic film to capture a silk, my only splitfilm shot of 2015 to earn a ribbon, and my second blue at Durham after 2013’s showing of The AGFA Bridge Over Ansco Lake.

Now that felt good.  And it actually encourages me to keep trying this splitfilm discipline.

So let’s recap Competition Season 2015, shall we?

Yes, let’s.

  • Two more blue ribbons – Rutland the Goat at Altamont, Jessica: Instamatic Dichotomy at Durham.
  • Multiple winners include Aerochrome Falls (Honorable at Altamont, Honorable at Big E), and Vivaldi’s Pond (3rd place at Durham, Honorable at NYS Fair).
  • Lots of red ribbons for second place, including Just Vic (Big E), Parabola: From Hadley to Corinth (Big E), and The Walkway (NYS Fair).

And the best part of all this is…

I feel like I’m on the upswing in terms of photography; last year wasn’t my greatest, so this time I’m feeling like there’s positive vibes.  Heck, at this time next year I’ll most likely be gushing about photos that are six months away from me even conceiving of their existence.  Woah.

So Competition Season 2015 has finished.

I gotta start getting my shots for Competition Season 2016.

Starting right about …