The 2021 Big E Durham Fair Double-Dip Photography Competition

Several months ago, when I blogged about my photos and their success at the Iowa State Fair’s photography competition, I received a private email from an Iowa photographer, Ryan Ward. He contacted me, as he had received a postcard that his entries were not accepted, and he wanted to ask if I could look over what he submitted, and if there were any suggestions I could make. I did so, and let him know that there were years when I received the rejection postcard at Iowa as well.

I recommended that he consider sending some of his images to the Big E this year, in that the Big E scores their photos on the Danish system – where judging is based not against other competitors, but against what the standards of the photo might be. And like the Iowa State Fair, the Big E’s photography competition is not limited to local residents.

He agreed, and submitted two entries to Springfield. These two images. And they are very nice images, let me tell you.

I also submitted my two entries – my steam locomotive shot Strasburg Number 90, and my splitfilm attempt Five Tickets to Ride Day and Night. This was my first time submitting splitfilm to the Big E, and even though the locomotive picture had made the walls in Des Moines, Altamont and Syracuse, it left all three locales with no ribbonry.

So I figure, let’s give that steam locomotive photo at least two more tries – here and at Durham later in the year. Can’t hurt, right?

Plus, they’re already going to show my 2020 themed entry, Graduation With a Bang, which won a Best in Show last year as an online entry. So there’s that.

Off to Springfield. I’ll check out my photos, as well as look for Ryan Ward’s images. This is what photographers do. We look out for each others’ work.

Okay. Eastern States Exposition rules. I cannot enter the New England Center (the building where the creative arts entries are housed) unless I stop in at least three different “state” houses on the Big E campus. For the record, I visited the state houses for Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut.

Okay. Let’s go in. First, I’ll scope out Ryan’s works, and see how his entries turned out.

Lady of the Birds. Photo (c) 2021 Ryan Ward.

Sweet. A red ribbon means second place.

And his other photo’s not far.

Monastery Light. Photo (c) 2021 Ryan Ward.

And look at that. First time Ryan enters the Big E’s competition, and he nabs a blue. Amazing. Much congratulations, and I hope he enters this again next year.

Okay. Now where’s my images?

Oh, there’s Graduation with a Bang over there.


Graduation with a Bang. Nikon Df camera, Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens. Photo (c) 2020 Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

Look at that sweet blue ribbon. And that card that says “Best of Graduation 2020,” one of the online categories for last year before the pandemic forced the Big E to completely close down.

Okay, that was last year’s stuff. Last year is last year. Where’s my splitfilm Ferris wheel?


Five Tickets to Ride Day and Night. AGFA Clipper Special f/6.3 camera, Kodak Verichrome Pan and Kodak Instamatic Gold 200 film. Photo (c) 2019 Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

White ribbon for third place. So this artwork has picked up silks at Durham, at Syracuse, and here. And it also received an Honorable Mention at the Photo Regionals in 2020. Nice run for this little image, I should say.

All right, now where’s my steam locomotive? So far, it’s been in three competitions, and it’s just sat on three walls, ribbonless. Give me some good news.


Strasburg Number 90. Nikon Df camera, Nikkor 80-200 f/2.8 telephoto lens. (c) 2021 Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

Um … I’d definitely say that’s good news. Ladies and gentlemen, Strasburg Number 90 broke out of the Susan Lucci funk and picked up a pretty blue ribbon, first place in the Danish scoring.

This is definitely a photo that works on the premise of “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”

Last week, I drove all the way to Durham, Connecticut, to drop off my three foam-boarded images for consideration at the Durham Fair’s show. In five years of appearing in this competition, I’ve nabbed six blue ribbons, including a Best-in-Division for The AGFA Bridge Over Ansco Lake, and a People’s Choice award for After the Rain. That certainly feels good.

Okay. I’ve finished up at the Big E. Trust me, there’s only so many eclairs and puff pastries a man can devour. Now it’s time to wash them down with lime rickeys. Off we go to Connecticut, and check out how three of my images did at the Durham Fair.

At that competition, I submitted Strasburg Number 90, as well as the baseball photo High and Tight, and the recently-captured Fishing at Silk Bridge. All week, I looked online for any clues as to how my pictures did. Other people posted their images (with colored dots that represent ribbons won), but my photo didn’t show up in any of those candid shots. Nuts. Guess I have to travel to Connecticut and find out for myself.

And now for the usual Durham Fair tropes. Parking at Strickland Farm, which despite their name “farm,” I suspect that the only thing they grow there is dust and mud. Okay, I got a good parking spot, now let’s get to the school bus for the quick trip to the Fairgrounds.

Um … did I say quick jaunt? I’ve seen shorter lines at the box office for a Taylor Swift concert.

Okay. Onto the school buses. Attendants hand out disposable face masks for those who forgot to bring theirs. I’m still wearing mine. Yeah, I’m double-Pfizered, but I don’t know if the person across from me in the bus is packing a full viral load and is asymptomatic.

Bumpy, bouncy ride on the school bus to the Fairgrounds. And I should say this. For a Sunday at the Durham Fair, the place was mobbed. Seriously. If this were the 1970’s, the Durham Fair could be described as bumpah-ta-bumpah in Central Artahree Traffic on thah way tah Storrah Drive. Sorry, just had a WEEI traffic report flashback. My bad.

Checked out a few things along the way. No need to go to the Personal Skills building until later, just because it’s a bit of a jaunt, and the Durham Fairgrounds were constructed on a slope. And I needed some food.

Oh, look. There’s a place that’s selling poutine. Chuck want. Even if it is a 15-minute line for eats.

“Hi, I’d like some poutine and a diet cola.”

“We’re out of diet cola.”

“Okay, I’ll take poutine and a water.”

“We’re out of water.”

“Okay, what drinks do you have?”

“We’re out of all drinks. Sorry.”

Ugh. Had to go to another booth (and another 15 minute wait) just to get a beverage.

Sat down at a picnic table. Started to nosh on the poutine. It was okay. I mean, it’s got a cheese curd or three in there, definitely the gravy-like liquid on top, and the French fries seemed a bit chewy. But food is food.

“Can we sit at the table?”

I looked up. Small family. Mother, father, newborn in a stroller. “Sure. Please sit.”

We chatted, mostly small talk. I noted that the baby looked adorable. All babies look adorable.

“Oh,” the mother said. “I think she needs to have her diaper changed.”

And with that, she took the baby out of the stroller, put the baby on the picnic table, and proceeded to change the baby’s fully-loaded diaper. Right in front of me. And that baby had a load in her diaper. Baby must have eaten three meals and given back five.

At that moment, I didn’t want any more poutine. Or, for that matter, much of any other morsel.

Okay. Here we go. Inside the Personal Skills building.

Let’s see how the covered bridge / fisherman photo did.

Fishing at Silk Bridge. Kodak Medalist II camera, Fuji Velvia 100 film. Photo (c) 2021 Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

No colored dot. That means no colored ribbon. Strike one.

Did my macro baseball shot pick up its second ribbon of the year?

High and Tight. Nikon Df camera, several photos captured in focus stack. (c) 2020 Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

Nertz. This photo did about as well as Mike Torrez in 1978. You know, when he airmailed that one pitch to Bucky Bleeping Dent… Sorry, another flashback.

And technically, that’s strike two.

Okay. I’ve still got Strasburg Number 90 in the mix. It got one ribbon already. How about a second stripe?

Strasburg Number 90. Nikon Df camera, Nikkor 80-200 f/2.8 lens. (c) 2021 Chuck Miller. All rights still reserved.

Well, what do you know. Second blue of the day for Strasburg Number 90, and it continues my streak of at least one blue ribbon in every year in which I’ve competed at Durham. Swank.

Okay. Officially, Competition Season 2021 has concluded. Let’s check the scores.

  • Five Tickets to Ride Day and Night finished with a second-place at the NYS Fair, and a third place at the Big E, to claim a total of three silks.
  • After the Rain scored an Honorable Mention at Iowa, garnering it a complete 5-for-5 ribbon sweep of every competition in which it was entered (three blues, two HM’s).
  • High and Tight scored a second-place at Iowa, my second-ever macro photo to score a silk.
  • Contact claimed a third-place at the NYS Fair, the best showing I’ve ever achieved with a traditional photography color image in that competition.
  • Strasburg Number 90 picked up a sweet blue ribbon at the Big E, and a blue at the Durham Fair, making this image a two-time blue.
  • Double Feature / Family Friendly became my first photo in TEN YEARS to claim an outright blue ribbon at the New York State Fair. It was also my second-ever lenticular print to make the Syracuse walls, following 2015’s Vivaldi’s Pond.
  • For the first time in a very, very long time, every competition I’ve entered as part of Competition Season has produced at least one ribbon.
  • Oh yeah, and the Syracurse got completely stomped on. No more Syracurse. Yay.

And now there’s next year. Yikes. Next year. And I’ve already got two images in the Competition Season short pile, my Fishing at Silk Bridge image, and that infrared shot of Toll Gate Ice Cream, which I’m thinking of calling We Serve Wayward Strangers. Insert your Walking Dead / Twilight Zone reference where you can.

And although Competition Season is over, there’s now Charity Season 2021. Historic Albany Foundation’s BUILT charitable auction. The Albany Institute of History and Art’s “Work of Art” fundraiser. Yeah. Why stop now when I can continue this nice little run?

Works for me. 😀