Results from the New York State Fair, 2021 edition

I still remember the day.

Action Under the Basket. Nikon D70 camera, Nikkor 80mm f/2.8 lens. Photo (c) Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

It was twelve years ago around this time, and I earned my first-ever ribbon in professional photography competition, an Honorable Mention for a shot called Action Under the Basket, a shot that involved my hanging the rafters above Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, just to get a “straight-down” shot of a battle for the ball between Marlowe Currie and Sam Carey of the Manchester (N.Y.) Millrats, and James Reaves and Sammy Monroe of the Rochester (N.Y.) RazorSharks of the Premier Basketball League.

I think I still have that 80-200 f/2.8 telephoto lens in my arsenal, but the camera body was an old Nikon D70. Twelve years ago. The Millrats moved out of New Hampshire, relocated in New Brunswick for a few years. I think Sammy Monroe and Marlowe Currie are still playing overseas. Sam Carey passed away in 2012, God rest his soul. Wow. Twelve years ago. Wow.

It was my first trip to the New York State Fair, and it began several of my personal traditions – not entering the Art Center building until at least 1:00 p.m., finding some sort of deep-fried delicacy among the many eateries, visiting the animal displays and learning something new about what makes New York special.

I still remember the day.

Nipper’s Polar Panorama. Nikon D700 camera, Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 lens, 28 photos stitched in digital panorama. Photo (c) Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

It was a photo I created based on an idea. Thanks to the gracious permission of Arnoff Moving and Storage, I was granted permission to photograph the RCA Victor sculpture of Nipper, the sculpture that appears on top of the Arnoff Moving and Storage building.

The photo was accepted at the New York State Fair, and it earned me my first-ever major silk, a second place ribbon in the non-traditional category. What an incredible feeling. It was at that moment that I felt I understood my photographic skills. Create something new and novel. See the world in an entirely different perspective.

What an amazing feeling.

I still remember the day.

Lodge’s in Polaroid PolaBlue. Nikon F100 camera, 28mm f/2.8 lens, Polaroid Polablue film. Photo (c) Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

It was a dreary Sunday in Albany, and I was experimenting with Polaroid’s 35mm instant-developing film. I had a roll of Polaroid’s PolaBlue film, a film that was designed for creating blue-texted transparencies for carousel slide projectors. It wasn’t designed for imagery. Especially since this film has an ISO speed of 6. A grocery bag has more sensitivity to light.

I entered this image, along with several others, and it – along with my splitfilm masterpiece, The AGFA Bridge Over Ansco Lake (where I crammed two rolls of film into one camera and shot them simultaneously) appeared at the New York State Fair’s photo gallery.

AGFA-Ansco claimed a second place silk.

Lodge’s in Polaroid PolaBlue claimed a big bright blue ribbon. First place in the non-traditional category.

This is fantastic. Never thought I could get a big win like this, especially not with film that wasn’t designed for detailed images.

Of course, in creating these images, I also found myself with detractors. “Oh, you didn’t get that image by being a REAL photographer,” one person told me. “It was all done with trickery and gimmicks.”

“I’ve been taking pictures for years,” another person said. “Then I saw what you’ve done, and you haven’t taken pictures for as many years as I have. I hate that you’ve gotten better than me in photography.”

“Big deal, you can take pictures. You can travel a thousand miles to photograph a flower, but you won’t travel five minutes to visit your family.”

But I didn’t care. They aren’t seeing what I’m seeing in these pictures. So what if the ribbons are in the non-traditional category? Look at these! I’m freakin’ creating photographic art! This is awesome!

I still remember the day.

The Walkway. Rolleiflex Automat MX camera, efke 100 film. Photo by Chuck Miller.

It’s the summer of 2015, and I’m at Hamilton College for my 30th college reunion. At a quiet Sunday morning, I’m wandering the Root Glen, looking for a spot for a shot of the bridges that span that peaceful ravine.

My Rolleiflex has the ability to take twelve photos on a single roll of 120 film. I had a pack of Efke high-contrast black and white film in the camera’s chassis.

I submitted it for the New York State Fair, and lo and behold, it took second place in the traditional black-and-white category. My third-ever second-place ribbon, and my best-ever showing in the traditional photography category.

I remember those days.

And then came the drought.

It started in 2014, when all six of my entries were rejected. None of them made the walls of the Harriet May Mills Art Center. None of them. The trend continued in 2016. And in 2017 as well.

I begrudgingly called it the Syracurse, a nomenclature built on equal parts frustration and resolve. I was allowed to feel depression for my photos missing the cut, but it meant that I could no longer rely on raw camera skills and efforts.

Then came some glimmers of hope. In 2018, I finally got a picture back on the wall. In 2019, my dewdrop-drenched dandelion, After the Rain, snagged an Honorable Mention, my first silk in four years.

Then came 2020 … COVID-19 … no New York State Fair. And no photo contest.

But now … in 2021 … I have five images on the wall at the Harriet May Mills Art Center. But I have no idea whether any of these images have some image love.

And I can’t find out any results until I drive to Syracuse.

It’s Saturday morning. Road trip. Green Island to Syracuse. I packed a couple of cameras – my Rolleiflex and my Krasnogorsk FT-2 super-wide – for some film shots. You’ll see the film shots once they’re developed.

For some reason, this year the Fair was extremely humid. Brutally humid. I could feel my clothes sticking to my skin. And I was carrying two camera bags. Good thing I wasn’t carrying three camera bags.

To kill some time, I played what appeared to be some sort of a bingo game. You paid a dollar and threw rubber balls over a barrier until the balls fell into a five-in-a-row pattern. Five dollars later, I won the knowledge that I just gave up five dollars for my efforts. Live and learn.

I also checked out the butter sculpture. Now, despite what you might suspect, the butter sculpture isn’t entirely made of butter. The butter is spread on a wooden armature frame, and then carved from there.

But anyway, here’s the butter sculpture for 2021.

Yes, the kid in the butter sculpture is wearing a face mask. There’s no margarine of error on this.

As I headed back to the Harriet May Mills Art Center, I passed what appeared to be a demonstration of raptors and owls and vultures, all brought in from a wildlife sanctuary. Many of these birds either spent their time as exotic pets, or they suffered an injury in the wild that kept them from fending for themselves. The wildlife sanctuary allowed them a local to live out their lives in dignity, and also to show what these predators look like up and close.

And they had a bald eagle. Some time in his earlier years, this bald eagle fractured one of its talons, making it very difficult for him to capture his prey. This is his new life. And mind you, this eagle is safe in this wildlife sanctuary. Trust me. It is illegal for Americans to own an eagle or even possess its feathers, with the only exceptions granted to Native Americans for religious endeavors.

I asked if I could take some pictures of the majestic bird. The sanctuary representative said that with a donation to the sanctuary, she could allow that to happen, although I would not be able to have the eagle on my wrist or arm, both for the animal’s safety and because – like I said, it’s an eagle and I’m not a Native American.

I took some film photos, then one of the wildlife representatives captured a few shots with my BlackBerry.

That’s as close as this Steelers fan will get to anything Eagles-related. 😀

Okay. It’s 1:00. Time to rip off the bandage and see how my photos did.

Into the Harriet May Mills Art Center I go.

I remember the day. It was my first trip outside of New York in over a year. Ankle fracture. COVID quarantine. Everything shut down. I made it all the way to South Central Pennsylvania. Followed the rules of railroad photography. Try to get the image in 3/4 profile. Try to get smoke and steam.

And I got it.

And there’s Strasburg Number 90.

It’s on the wall, for sure. It also made the wall in Iowa, and at Altamont.

I remember the day.

I was battling COVID quarantine boredom. Using my camera, a macro lens, and a focusing rig, I took dozens of photos of an old, distressed baseball, and stacked them together, tack-sharpening them in a focus stack.

High and Tight is right over there. Did it earn a second ribbon to go with the 2nd place in Iowa?

Not this time.

Someone walked by the photo, and stared at it. He then turned to the woman next to him, who was also looking at the photo, and said, “Is that what you went through when our son was born?”

There it is, folks. The tactless comment of the day. Yeesh.

All right, three images to go. Let’s hope.

I still remember the day.

I spent the night at the old Catskill Game Farm campus. It’s a clear, moonless night, and I’ve already captured a stellar Milky Way photo, Night of the Simian. The night was still young, so I experimented with a fun little concept. I left my camera on its tripod, and then used my corded shutter trigger to make the camera take 30-second shots. Meanwhile, I turned on my headlamp, walked into frame, raised my head, outstretched my arms, and captured the image Contact.

And there’s Contact over there … and…

Holy Carl Sagan, Batman … third place in the professional color category. That’s my first-ever ranked ribbon in the color category, and only my second-ever ranked ribbon in the traditional photography field! Wow!!

All right, I’m done. Time to go home.

Oh, wait. There’s still two images up for view.

I remember the day.

It’s August, 2019. I’ve loaded Kodak Verichrome Pan 70mm film into my old AGFA Clipper Special f/6.3, a camera I purchased at an antiques sale 11 years ago. I shot the images during the day, then, while the camera was locked onto its tripod, I extracted the Verichrome Pan film, and placed some re-rolled Kodak Instamatic Gold 200 film in the chassis. This is the equivalent of putting a Chevy transmission into a Toyota. But I made it work.

That picture claimed a second-place silk at Durham in 2019, just before the pandemic hit.

And here it is, Five Tickets to Ride Day and Night.

Hallelujah! First-ever success in Syracuse with Instamatic film! First-ever success in Syracuse with that AGFA Clipper Special f/6.3! My fifth-ever second-place red ribbon at Syracuse!

If you’re wondering what a 57-year-old man looks like when he’s doing the flossy dance at the Harriet May Mills Art Center, well, I guess you had to be there.

Man, Five Tickets nabbed a second place silk. Now I want to know who garnered first place in this category. What was the one photo that nosed Five Tickets out?

I remember the day.

I’ve always found the Jericho Drive-In marquee sign a fascinating image. It’s the mixture of Googie architecture and neon. But photographing it meant that whatever movie was on the marquee at the time would automatically date that picture. Thankfully, the owners of the Jericho arranged to set up a generic signage, and I photographed the marquee both during the day and as dusk appeared.

I sent the two images off to my lenticular printer in Toronto, who sent me back a waycool image. And off it went to Syracuse.

And you know what picture nosed out Five Tickets to Ride Day and Night?

This one.

Yes. Double Feature Family Friendly becomes my first blue ribbon at Syracuse in ten years. It’s my second-ever lenticular success, after Vivaldi’s Pond garnered an Honorable Mention years ago.


Just wow.

Super wow.

Super duper wow.

In horse racing, you can bet on a horse to win, place and show, betting $2 across the board and earning money even if the horse comes in third.

What I did this year is score a first place (non-traditional), a second place (non-traditional), and a third place (color). Win, place, and show.


And I’m so excited, I could eat the first thing put in front of me.

And you’re not going to believe what I found along the food trucks and vendors.

Yes, indeed. At the “Fried Specialties” booth, they were serving what they called the “Heart Failure” meal. Look at the description.

That’s a dressed-up Twinkie-Wiener Sandwich. Yes it is.

So I ordered a Twinkie-Wiener sandwich, despite whatever Fried Specialties called it.

Listen, the place that normally sells me my deep-fried apple blintzes a la mode wasn’t open this year. I gotta make do.

Oh, and I took plenty of photos. Three rolls of Fuji Velvia 100 film with the Rolleiflex, and two rolls of Fuji Velvia 35mm with my Krasnogorsk FT-2 camera (“Raskolnikov”). When those get developed, I’ll share them here.

But now it’s time to head home. I’ve got a 2 1/2 hour drive back to the 518. And for once, I’m going back home with the knowledge that I nailed three high-level ribbons in competition.

And that beats kvetching over what might have been.

Of course, now the clock starts again. 2022. Competition Season.

I gotta get ready. Six images, let’s get them taken.

I’m so ready right now. 😀